• BAE Systems model of Hunter-class frigate at Indo-Pac 23.
Credit: Nigel Pittaway
    BAE Systems model of Hunter-class frigate at Indo-Pac 23. Credit: Nigel Pittaway

BAE Systems used the opening day of the Indo Pacific exhibition in Sydney to unveil a modification to its Hunter-class frigate design, which will increase the number of vertical launch system (VLS) cells from 32 to 96.

The changes will come at the expense of some of the high-end anti-submarine warfare (ASW) equipment such as the towed array sonar, and the Hunter’s mission bay aft of the funnel.

In essence a new module, consisting of 64 VLS cells and four Naval Strike Missile (NSM) canisters, will replace the existing mission bay. BAE Systems said the additional weight of the new VLS module is nullified by the removal of the mission bay and ASW equipment.

BAE Systems Australia’s Managing Director Maritime Craig Lockhart said the Guided Missile Frigate design changes come at minimal risk and cost and do not affect the performance or design margins of the baseline ship. The new configuration is designed around the current Mk.41 VLS but there is enough room to upgrade to the Mk.57 Peripheral Vertical Launch System (PVLS) fitted to the US Navy’s Zuimwalt-class destroyers in the future.

“You would need to go to a 13,000-ton ship like the (US) Arleigh Burke to get the same capability,” he said.

Lockhart said the first Hunter Guided Missile Frigate could be built as early as the fourth ship – the first vessel of Flight 2 - in the program if requested by Defence. If adopted, the proposal will arguably render the Navy’s three Hobart-class DDGs redundant.

BAE Systems said design work on the evolved ship began long before the surface fleet review and attendant public debate about Navy’s capability to put significant numbers of VLS cells to sea.

“A mix of the two types (ASW Frigate and Guided Missile Frigate) creates a pretty powerful Navy,” BAE Systems’ Managing Director Ben Hudson said.

Hudson said the margins in the Hunter design could accommodate a maximum of 128 VLS cells, but this would come at the cost of the forward gun.

“It’s an evolutionary approach to the evolution of the threat,” the company’s Head of Naval Shipbuilding Simon Lister added.

The Hunter program is awaiting the outcome of the Surface Fleet Review, now not expected to be made public until the end of the first quarter next year, but BAE Systems Australia has categorically refuted rumours that the Hunter build program would be moved to BAE Systems’ shipyard in Glasgow.

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