UDT - Sonars: Ultra win AWD sonar contract | ADM Oct 08

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The first major combat system element for the new Hobart-class Air warfare Destroyers has been selected: Ultra Electronics will build the ships’ sonars. With more sub-system announcements due fairly soon the AWD program is entering an energetic phase.
Gregor Ferguson

British firm Ultra Electronics Ltd has been named preferred tenderer to supply the underwater warfare system for the Royal Australian Navy’s three Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers.

This will provide both self-protection for the AWDs themselves as well as force protection for surface task groups, including the RAN’s new Canberra-class amphibious landing ships, or LHDs.

Ultra defeated its shortlisted rival, Sydney-based Thales Underwater Systems; the field of contenders originally included Lockheed Martin, teamed with Spanish firm Indra, which mnufactures the sonar for the Spanish Navy’s F-100 frigates on which the Hobart-class is based, and Raytheon.

Contract negotiations began in mid-August and the contract was expected to be signed during the third quarter of 2008; its estimated value is around $100 million.

Ultra’s Canberra-based bid manager, Jim Manson, told ADM the company would not comment on the project until negotiations are complete and the contract is signed.

The AWD Alliance called originally for tenders for a Baseline sonar suite incorporating hull-mounted and variable depth sonars (HMS and VDS) able to detect both submarines and incoming torpedoes, and an enhanced, so-called ‘Aspirational System’.

It isn’t clear which level of capability the AWD Alliance has selected and Alliance sources have declined to comment until contract negotiations are complete.

Ultra Electronics’ baseline suite consists of the Type 7150 HMS, a dual-frequency sensor based on the Type 2091 single-frequency bow sonar which the company is building for the Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyers.

The VDS it has offered is a towed array designed to minimise ship modification, top weight and constraints on ship manoeuvres, the company says.

For the Aspirational System, Ultra offered a multi-static sonar capability based on the Type 2170 torpedo defence system it has manufactured for the Royal Navy.

Ultra sources have confirmed to ADM that the company will establish a new project management and engineering facility in Adelaide and over 50 per cent of the contract by value will be executed in Australia.

The company intends to transfer to Australia the technology required to manufacture the second and third ship sets of sonar equipment - and the fourth, if the government approves the purchase of a fourth AWD.

However, bid manager Jim Manson declined to comment on persistent reports Ultra is also examining potential takeover opportunities among Adelaide’s high-technology SME community.

Given the structure of the company in the US and UK, such a move would not be unexpected.

Ultra operates a number of business units around the globe which are effectively SMEs that have access to other like minded SMEs and reachback to parent company capital.

This is the first major sub-system selected for the AWD.

The AWD Alliance is also evaluating bids for other key AWD sub-systems.

Source selections are close for the Counter-Measures launchers and Infra Red Search & Track (IRST) systems; other sub-system bids also being evaluated at present include:

• Torpedo launch tubes

• Over the side torpedo handling system

• Very Short-Range Air Defence (VSRAD)

• Electro-Optical surveillance system

• Navigation radar and ship’s sensors

• Bow Thruster

• Transom doors for launch and recovery of the towed sonar array.

And the Alliance was expected to issue RFTs in September for hull and superstructure modules for the three ships. First contracts should be awarded early in 2009, ADM was told.

The Alliance has delayed issuing tenders for the ship’s Electronic Warfare (EW) and Communications systems, for which space, weight, cooling and power provisions have been made in the AWD design.

These will be specified and purchased as late as possible in order to forestall potential equipment obsolescence issues.

Ultra’s victory in the AWD sonar contest came as pressure grew from the defence industry and Opposition to acquire a fourth AWD, amid news that Defence had sought price data from the US Navy for additional Aegis equipment.

In July the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the US Congress of an Australian FMS request for a further ship-set of Aegis equipment, guns, missiles and launchers for a possible fourth AWD.

However, spokesmen for the department and for Australia’s defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon were quick to dampen speculation that an order for a fourth ship is imminent.

“The Australian Government has requested a formal Letter of Offer from the US Navy for the supply of a possible fourth Aegis combat system,” a spokesman told ADM.

“This Letter of Offer, which will include a firm price for the supply of the system, will be relevant if the Australian Government decides to acquire a fourth AWD.”

A go/no-go decision for a fourth AWD will be made “in the context of the Defence White Paper Force Structure Review, due in December 2008,” ADM was told.

“The request for this Letter of Offer, expected to be received later this year, in no way implies that Australia will be taking up the offer for the fourth Aegis system or, in turn, a fourth Air Warfare Destroyer.

"That decision is subject to the White Paper process.”

The shadow defence minister, senator Nick Minchin, said 22 August, “The AWD project … will give Australia a highly capable ship with an advanced Aegis combat system, and the ability to protect Australian forces from aircraft, surface combatants, submarines and ballistic missiles.

"A fourth AWD would add to this capability.

“The construction of an additional ship would extend the duration of work for … contractors, and … would help the shipbuilding industry retain its skilled workforce by smoothing the work flow between AWD construction and the next generation submarine.

“The Coalition Government [of former prime minister John Howard] built into the AWD contract an option for a fourth ship.

"That option runs out in October but the Rudd Labor Government has been silent on whether the option will be exercised.

"With continuing delays in the Defence White Paper, the Rudd Labor Government may not make a decision on a fourth ship until later in 2009. And this would put at risk the opportunity of getting the fourth ship at the best price.

“I challenge Mr Fitzgibbon to stop dragging out the White Paper process, and to make a decision backing a fourth ship.”

On 9 September in his address to the RSL National Congress highlighted the emerging strategic security challenges facing Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd noted, “We need an enhanced naval capability that can protect our sea lanes of communication and support our land forces as they deploy.”

It’s just possible that advocates of a fourth AWD may be pushing on an open door.

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