Of all the vessels outlined in the continuous shipbuilding plan, the OPVs have received relatively little attention compared to the Future Frigate and Future Submarine. With the build split between Adelaide and WA for political reasons, much of the capability discussion has been lost.
As announced by Government in April 2016, three designers have been shortlisted as part of the Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP); Damen of The Netherlands, Fassmer of Germany, and Luerssen of Germany are required to refine their designs from an agreed off the shelf design basis.
Rather than limit themselves to a reference ship, like the Sea 5000 CEP, neither the Government or Commonwealth have ever gone on record as to which design each of the three contenders would be refining.
The CEP saw an RFT released late last year with responses going in the box in March. The Commonwealth program office is now reviewing those offers and will report back to Government with their recommendations in the third quarter of this year for consideration. Industry is expecting an announcement on the preferred solution somewhere in the fourth quarter of 2017, at the latest. Given that steel is due to be cut in 2018 for the first two ships to be built in Adelaide, an imminent decision is required by all parties.
As ADM has previously explained, the split OPV build program is meant to help navigate the Valley of Death – the gap in shipbuilding programs between the end of the AWD construction program in 2018 and the beginning of the Future Frigate program in 2020 in Adelaide. The first two boats will be built in Adelaide before transferring remaining construction activities over to WA for the completion of the 12-boat program.
However industry sources close to the OPVs estimate that even at the height of the build program, the likely blue collar workforce will peak at 200 people and average out at approximately 150 people, with white collar jobs averaging around the same level. This gives a total of between 300-400 people over the life of the program. The AWD workforce peaked at a little over 3,000 people, according to the AWD Alliance. Successive announcements by AWD shipbuilder ASC of job losses as the program winds down reflect this.
“The reality is that ASC’s workforce profile on the AWD Program has reached its peak and will now progressively decline as we head towards the end of the project and various trades complete their component of the build activity,” ASC Shipbuilding CEO, Mark Lamarre said in announcing the latest round of redundancies earlier this year.
“Until the outcomes of the Competitive Evaluation Processes for the Future Frigate and Offshore Patrol Vessel projects are known, it is not possible to maintain the current number of employees on this project as work winds down,” he said.
In terms of navigating the Valley of Death, the total workforce for the OPV program is minimal compared to the AWD and the Future Frigate. But this is the way forward the Government has charted, as supported by the release of the highly anticipated Naval Shipbuilding Plan (see P6 for more on the plan).
“The decision to build the first two ships in Adelaide was announced by government and the strategy we are pursuing with Sea 1180 actively supports the wider national shipbuilding plan,” Sea 1180 program manager Peter Croser said to ADM. “The SA site will be developed significantly in order to meet the Future Frigate and to support OPV’s.
“While the Sea 1180 program on its own does not fully address the workforce downturn, I can tell you that the companies see it as helping to maintain levels of resourcing and critical capabilities which are not lost along with the addition of new infrastructure. There’s an opportunity between now and 2020 to build a more efficient yard than we we currently have.
“Remember, that the yard (ASC south and to some extent Techport) was designed around a three ship program. That yard will, in the future, be capable of continuous build. It will be a modern facility with a lot of automation and an efficient layout to efficiently move product between sites based on lean principles at every step, supported by digital design. It’s not a distributed block approach like AWD. The yard will be optimised for the Future Frigate.”
Croser also acknowledged that the build methodology for OPV’s (but not the design) may differ between SA and WA due to the nature of the facilities available at the two sites.
As mentioned above, while there has been no firm indication of reference ships, ADM has made some educated guesses about the field. As the OPV CEP comes together, more information has come to light about the offering from each of the contenders. Both Luerssen and Damen have partnered with a joint venture of Civmec/ASC while Fassmer has partnered with Austal.
ADM has had a chance to speak to all three designers about their plans and reflections of the process thus far. It must be noted however, that the Commonwealth has restricted what each of the players has been able to reveal on the record during the Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP).
Luerssen is a family owned and operated German company that has undergone massive expansion in its home market over recent years since beginning in 1875. With yards in Bremen, Hamburg, Wolgast and Wilhelmshaven (predominantly in the north of the country in both a riverine and sea-facing region), the company bought a number of Blohm+Voss assets when they became available last year.
In recent times, they have been involved in the German Navy’s Type 125 class along with TKMS. In this case, they each built roughly half of the ship each before consolidation. Roughly half of their German based business is grey ships for navies and coast guard type organisations while the other half is luxury super yachts.
ADM had the chance to visit both their yards at Wolgast (predominantly grey ships) and head office at Bremen (white ships of the super luxury kind and design headquarters). They have been building grey ships for the German forces for decades.
The company has built and supplied turnkey training solutions for OPVs for a number of international customers including Malaysia, Singapore, UAE, Turkey, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria and Argentina. The Brunei fleet of four saw one of their OPVs, the first of class Darussalam, in Australia for the 2013 Fleet Review.
While the company was reticent to share more customer details, it was easy to spot Saudi boats sitting at their docks at Wolgast, ready to go.
The Malaysian program for 30 boats has seen the Wolgast yard ramp up to deliver a boat every six weeks. The impressive feat is supported by much automation for cutting and welding along with a digital shipyard concept underpinned by Siemens software programs. These Siemens programs also work out nested cutting patterns for plates, ensuring minimal wastage and also allowing for tracking of every single component along the production line. A ship will move along a series of nine stations in three buildings (all work is done indoors) every six weeks, with the last two stations in the water alongside. The yard does a mix of both steel and aluminium work at the same site, with this approach common across all Luerssen yards.
The high technology approach when it comes to design, build and program management is based on a single point of truth through the digital model.
“We refer to this system every step of the way for everything; changes, ordering, communicating with suppliers,” Detlef Schlichting, Luerssen’s head of marketing explained. “No decisions are made down on the floor, except for minor ones. These are then reflected into the digital plan going forward.”
The level of automation on the ship is also large (a completely unmanned engine room is more than possible), with Schlichting remarking that the technology is able to do more than perhaps people are really comfortable with.
Despite the company dancing around which ship is being used as their reference design, ADM suspects the OPV 80 is the one to watch. Schlichting confirmed that the company is offering a number of options for armament, fit out and various systems to the Commonwealth.
The company has teamed with a joint venture formed by ASC and Civmec, allowing them access to mature facilities in both states. Schlichting said that he has no doubt that building an Australian supply chain and transferring IP with this partnership would be relatively easy given their strong working relationship and Luerssen ’s past experience in such matters. When asked about how the company would be able to compete on cost, Schlichting was blunt.
“Not well,” he said. “We are not cheap but we are value for money.”
The other German company in the mix is also family owned and operated since 1850. Fassmer, based only a 20 minute drive from Lürssen in Bremen, also has an impressive track record of building patrols boats, corvettes, OPVs and other minor vessels for international customers. These include Chile, Colombia, The Netherlands, Denmark, Cambodia, and Bulgaria and then there is also the German home market.
Chile and Colombia have both bought the OPV 80 (seven ships in total) and ADM suspects this is the reference design for the company who has partnered with Austal for Sea 1180.
“We have established Fassmer Australia and will have designers on site,” Rene Quezada, Fassmer’s Director Sales explained to ADM. “We’d do most of the engineering work in Australia, working together in an integrated project team with Austal.”
Quezada confirmed that they would be using a blend of digital shipyard systems from both Siemens on their side and also Austal who are “quite familiar with the Commonwealth’s requirements”. Fassmer would be leveraging the existing supply chains and capabilities that Austal has built up over the years.
Despite Austal only having previously worked in aluminium (the new Pacific Patrol Boats contract that Austal holds is their first steel hull build, currently still in the design stage), Fassmer is confident that Austal is the right partner for their design providing “complimentary capabilities” to their own.
“Technology transfer is a key part of our business,” co-owner and head of the shipbuilding business Harald Fassmer said. “We’re looking to grow our relationship with Austal for other regional opportunities.”
Both gentlemen were keen to highlight the fact that the same field of contenders were in play for a similar program (of only three boats) in Germany last year, which they won.
Damen has had an excellent run in the Australian market over the last five years, delivering 12 vessels over the period on time and on budget. These include five tugs, four self-propelled fuel and water barges, one Escape Gear Ship (MV Besant), one Rescue Gear Ship (MV Stoker) and the Multi-role Aviation Training Vessel (MATV) MV Sycamore in support of the HATS program. They are also under contract to deliver the new icebreaker to the Australian government in 2020, which will be built in their Romanian yard. None of these vessels have been built in country. As mentioned previously, they have teamed with the same partnership as Luerssen: ASC/Civmec.
In April, MV Sycamore was put through her paces with an extensive testing program of all on-board military systems. This included testing of the air traffic radar, flight deck lighting and firefighting, flight deck communication systems and helicopter traverse installation procedures. MV Sycamore will also enable the RAN to accomplish numerous other secondary tasks. She can undertake torpedo and mine recovery operations, navigation training, dive support, Officer Sea Familiarisation, target towing and consort duties as well as unmanned aerial vehicle support.
Furthermore, the 94-metre long vessel has a large storage capacity, which gives her the potential to be mobilised in humanitarian relief operations. She is due to be handed over to Navy in July this year.
Damen builds ships all over the world, with one in five Damen vessels built locally on-site by Damen in The Netherlands. Damen has yards in 32 countries and global interests in a number of markets yet remains family owned. The customer range includes the coast guards of the US, Canada, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Vietnam, and Trinidad and Tobago with larger war vessels constructed for The Netherlands, Greece, UAE, Belgium, Chile, Portugal, Morocco, and Indonesia.
The Damen offering for Sea 1180 is likely to be based on the Arialah class as seen in service with the UAE. At only 67m the vessels are kitted out like a much larger ship. This includes the Raytheon Mark 49 Mod 2 RAM missile launcher, Thales STIR fire control and Thales Smart-S Mark 2 search radar, two OTO Melara MARLIN 30mm automatic guns and the Rheinmetall MASS Multi Ammunition Softkill System decoy system, all managed by the TACTICOS combat management system.
It incorporates Damen’s Axe Bow Concept, for which it holds an exclusive license on the patent. Initially developed to improve vessel operating profile and crew safety and comfort, the Sea Axe concept is also proving its worth when it comes to sustainability. The vessels exhibit superior motion behaviour and significantly lower resistance through the water. This leads to a cut in fuel usage of 20 per cent and, consequently, lower emissions.
“Damen is fully committed to Australian shipbuilding for the long term and will maximise Australian industry,” Mark Todd, Damen’s Australian representative said to ADM. “We will work in close partnership with the Government to ensure the foundation contract for Australia’s continuous shipbuilding and that Sea1180 is delivered on time, on budget, while simultaneously ensuring the workforce is prepared for the more complex Sea 5000 and Sea 1000 projects.”
Program office perspective
The strategy of not releasing details about the reference ship has been a deliberate one, according to Sea 1180 program manager Peter Croser.
“Since the beginning of the CEP, we’ve been looking to support the RAND principles including minimising design change” Croser explained to ADM. “How do we introduce Australian requirements without impacting the 2018 schedule as outlined by government?”
These Australian requirements include environmental compliance, accommodation standards, communications systems, situational awareness systems, WHS elements and HVAC standards.
The core reference designs from each of the contenders aligns to the Commonwealth requirement. The OPV CEP was to examine what requirements can be reasonably implemented with schedule uppermost in mind, but more importantly meeting the principle of minimum change. The engineering trade offs and the design implications have been assessed by Defence to ensure the designs only reflect the minimum level required to satisfy the essential requirements agreed by Government, Croser said.
“They’re all capable of around 20 knots, and they need greater range and endurance than the Armidale Class Patrol Boats,” Croser said in response to what the requirements looked like. “The OPV’s will be a major contributor to the governments border protection and fisheries roles and therefore the systems retained in the reference design will be appropriate for this role; by example their is no requirement for a huge gun or missile systems”
Croser pointed out that each of the shipbuilders are mature in their designs and approaches.
“They’re all experienced in building ships in their respective home markets as well as international customers with those countries having varying levels of local experience,” Croser said. “In essence, they’ve all done it before in more difficult places than Australia.”
In terms of government furnished equipment (GFE), the program office is looking at minimal additional equipment related to damage control, fire fighting equipment and communications, many related to meeting necessary Australian standards, Croser confirmed to ADM.
Navy is looking at operating the steel hulled ships for at least 20 years. Reliability, obsolescence management and room for growth are part of that equation. The sustainment contract, however is not part of this current RFT.
“We’re not looking at contracting sustainment at this point for two reasons,” Croser said. “We are looking to understand the ships usage and upkeep cycle through life for the selected vessel and develop an appropriate sustainment model tailored to that design and commitment. We need to know more about the final ship design to contract sustainment efficiently.
“We have asked the tenderers about their thoughts on sustainment and asked them to put ideas forward in the context of us contracting for sustainment separately next year. As part of the tender they are required to provide ILS deliverables which will form part of the sustainment contract inputs.”
The issue of intellectual property was also addressed by the program office; they want access if not ownership of everything that needs to be supplied to support a future sustainment partner that is not necessarily going to be the OEM.
“We want to be free to do what we need to with IP,” Croser said, bluntly saying this is critical and if not adequately provided would jeopardise the sustainability of the platform.
At first glance, all three ships can fulfil the mission. They would all do it slightly differently but they are all suitable for the needs of the RAN. The program office is actively applying lessons learned from the Armidale program, both good and bad, as well as other shipbuilding and sustainment experiences.
The industrial and political strategies of the design and build teams will be just as important as the capability arguments. Jobs and growth are just as important as capability and reliability.
All contenders are using variations of a digital shipyard that will allow for increased efficiency and easier configuration management into the future. Each have offered a range of options on armaments, fit outs, RHIB handling systems and related engineering trade offs.
Whatever decision the government makes as a preferred solution, it will be made under a relatively quick framework that the CEP offered in response to government’s own schedule pressures.
Disclaimer: The writer travelled in Germany as a guest of Lürssen.
This article first appeared in the August 2017 edition of ADM.