Nearly 18 years after the Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) program was first announced, Defence has taken delivery of the RAN’s third and final Hobart-class ship, the future HMAS Sydney, which will officially join the fleet after commissioning at Fleet Base East on 20 May.
The provisional acceptance ceremony at Adelaide’s Osborne naval shipyard on 28 February, attended by Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mike Noonan and several hundred invited guests, marked the conclusion of the $9 billion program to replace six Adelaide-class guided-missile frigates, the last of which was decommissioned in October 2019, with the 7,000 tonne Aegis-equipped AWDs.
After commissioning, HMAS Sydney will undertake primarily combat system work-up activities until the end of the year in preparation for several months of US Navy Combat System Ship Qualification trials (CSSQT).
These will include firings over the Pacific Test Range off San Diego of the destroyer's long range RIM-66 SM-2 Block IIIB and medium range RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow air-defence missiles.
Successful completion of the US CSSQT should then clear the way for final operational capability (FOC) for all three AWDs to be declared simultaneously by VADM Noonan.
Unsurprisingly, Reynolds noted at the acceptance ceremony that the 13-year AWD construction phase had involved challenges but described NUSHIP Sydney as "one of the world's most capable naval vessels", providing credible deterrence, scalable response options, and the ability to withstand counter coercion.
AWD first-of-class Hobart was delivered to Defence in June 2017 and commissioned into the RAN three months later. Delivery was two years and seven months behind the original schedule – itself rebaselined three times - and nearly 17 years after the AWD construct was first made public in the 2000 Defence White Paper.
Significant improvements in the construction process saw Ship 2 Brisbane commissioned in October 2018, more than two years behind schedule, while delivery of NUSHIP Sydney was several months earlier than previously re-scheduled.
This followed a decision to modify the off-hangar storage of Mk 54 light anti-submarine torpedoes and AGM-114N Hellfire air-to-surface missiles for the ship's MH-60R naval combat helicopter as part of the construction process rather than after its completion.
Together with the Aegis combat system, the AWDs’ considerable weapons and sensors fitout provides capabilities well beyond the ships’ primary long-range air defence role.
Project definition of the type began shortly after publication of the 2000 White Paper and included analyses of design requirements, the combat system, and possible candidates to fill the design role.
In 2005 a three-way AWD Alliance was announced grouping Commonwealth-owned ASC – formerly the Australian Submarine Corporation – as the principal shipbuilder; Raytheon Australia as the mission systems integrator responsible for designing and integrating the combat system; and the then-Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) as owner-participant, retaining overall responsibility for delivery.
Five months on and still well in advance of a decision on ship design, the Commonwealth signed a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract with the US government for three Aegis combat systems. This included FMS engagement of the US Navy and USN sub-contractor Lockheed Martin as the Engineering Agent for the core Aegis system.
In June 2007, to general surprise, Canberra announced the selection of Spanish shipbuilder Navantia’s in-service F100 Alvaro de Bazan-class frigate design in preference to an incomplete evolved design by US naval architect Gibbs and Cox based on a scaled-down US Navy Arleigh Burke Flight II guided missile destroyer.
“The evolved option was still a work in progress, so that’s where the great majority of risk reduction resources were focused,” commented Warren King, AWD program manager for the DMO from 2004 to 2007 and then its general manager programs to 2011 (and subsequently DMO CEO through to 2015).
“Navantia thought they were a stalking horse but General David Hurley (then Chief of the DMO’s Capability Development Group), Steve Gumley (then CEO of the DMO) and I were all very much of the opinion that the F100 was viable and we needed to ensure that Navantia took it seriously. It’s fair to say the selection of Aegis as the combat system put the Aegis-equipped F-100 in a much stronger position,” he said.
October 2007 saw signature of a three-way pain-share gain-share Alliance-based Target Incentive Agreement (ABTIA) between the DMO, ASC subsidiary AWD Shipbuilder Pty Ltd, and Raytheon Australia, for ship construction and delivery.
Navantia declined an invitation to join the Alliance and signed a separate Platform Systems Design contract that was to be managed on a day-to-day basis by ASC and Raytheon.
As noted later by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), the non-inclusion of Navantia subsequently detracted from the Alliance’s ability, from design conception through to shipbuilding and ship acceptance, to collectively and collaboratively manage risk, share best practices, and reduce cost.
The challenges inherent in a program where the ship designer had not previously exported a design for construction and the shipbuilder had never built a surface ship became apparent soon after construction started in April 2010.
“What caused the program to come off cost and schedule was a combination of everything – dimensional control, poor sequencing, system understanding and quality, configuration management and documentation, poor commercial practice,” commented Commodore Craig Bourke, a long-serving AWD director for the Capability and Sustainment Group (CASG) which replaced the disbanded DMO in June 2015.
“A new workforce, an unfamiliar design, new skills that didn’t exist, a new location, new commercial arrangements, what could go wrong?” he asked rhetorically.
A critical report by former US Navy Secretary Don Winter and industrialist John White, a former head of the Anzac-class frigate program, not only triggered the urgent injection of expertise into ASC from Navantia and Raytheon in 2015 but also saw the AWD enterprise designated a Project of Concern, automatically triggering intensified government oversight.
On the way up
Ensuing reforms saw productivity on Ship 2 improve by 38 per cent on Ship 1 and, according to Minister Reynolds, rise by a further 36 per cent from Ship 2 to Ship 3. The AWD program was removed from the Project of Concern list in February 2018.
NUSHIP Sydney’s Commanding Officer, Commander Ted Seymour RAN, was Executive Officer of HMAS Hobart during its builders’ sea trials when 1,700 defects were noted, he told ADM. With Sydney, the initial defect count was down to 400.
Currently the ships are fitted with the Aegis Baseline 7.1 Refresh 2 configuration, the AN/SPY-1D (V) phased array radar, AN/SPQ-9B X-band pulse Doppler horizon search radar, and a Mk 99 fire control system with two continuous-wave illuminating radars.
Other major sensors comprise Ultra Electronics integrated hull-mounted and towed variable depth sonar systems, an Ultra Electronics Series 2500 electro-optical (EO) director, Sagem VAMPIR infrared search and track (IRST) system, two Rafael Toplight stabilised EO directors and two L-3 Communications SAM Electrics X-band navigation radars.
The advanced electronic warfare suite is made up of the ITT EDO Reconnaissance and Surveillance Systems ES-3701 ESM radar, SwRI MBS-567A communications ESM receiver, Ultra Electronics Avalon Systems multipurpose digital receiver and a Jenkins Engineering Systems low band receiver.
Armament consists of a 48-cell Mk 41 strike-length vertical launch system (VLS) accommodating SM-2 Block IIIB and quad-packed Evolved Sea Sparrow medium range air defence missiles. Two four-canister AGM-84 Block II Harpoon anti-ship/land attack missile launchers are mounted midships. Other ordnance comprises a single Mk 45 Mod 4 62 calibre 5-inch gun, one Phalanx Block 1B aft-facing 20mm close-in weapon system, two M242 25mm Bushmaster automatic cannon in Rafael Typhoon mounts, and two Mk 32 Mod 9 twin-tube launchers for the MU90 lightweight anti-submarine torpedo.
Additional anti-submarine and anti-surface capabilities are provided by a single embarked MH-60R equipped with an AN/AQS-22 low frequency dipping sonar and armed with two Mk 54 lightweight antisubmarine torpedoes or up to eight Hellfire II air-to-surface missiles.
Decoys include four four-cell Australian-developed Nulka active anti-ship missile decoy systems, together with 130mm soft kill decoy launchers.
These capabilities are enhanced by the US Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) enabling each AWD to act as part of a wider ‘grid’ of sensor and weapon platforms that allows similarly-equipped ships to share surveillance and targeting information and reduces the effect of jamming. The RAN is the first navy outside the USN Navy to deploy this capability.
Interfacing Australian-specific equipment to Aegis is undertaken via an Australian Tactical Interface (ATI) developed by Kongsberg in conjunction with Raytheon Australia. The ATI interfaces all non-US systems outside space controlled by US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITARS).
Aegis in Australia
The decision to interface national elements via the ATI without modifying Aegis allows Australian-specific subsystems to be upgraded locally, although Australian combat system requirements have necessitated some design changes to the ship as well as software integration.
“Our 16 Aegis consoles are standard US Navy water-cooled units whereas the Spanish use their own bespoke air-cooled consoles, so it’s different cabling, different cooling parameters, different piping; it’s a pervasive change,” explained CDRE Bourke.
“We’ve also made changes to the ship to accommodate a number of Australian-directed weapons and sensors – the Typhoon/ATK 25mm close-in defence system and Toplite EO, Nulka, Phalanx, and the MU-90 torpedo launch system. All these are interfaced with Aegis as is our Australian-specific navigation radar, EW, the SPQ-59 horizon search radar, IRST, and the sonar suite.”
Communications also differ from the Spanish fitout – different radios, different antenna, and different frequencies, although this capability sits alongside rather than within Aegis.
The Australian sub-systems are accessed and controlled via any one or more of six ATI air-cooled multifunction consoles, but tracking information is shared with Aegis, and vice-versa. The upper area of the ATI console carries an Aegis mini-situational awareness display common to everyone in the operations room; sub-system displays run in the lower area.
An EW threat track file on an ATI console is handed off by ATI to an existing Aegis input and merged on the Aegis tactical display with a radar track in the same location, producing a master track with more information. An EW threat track that has not been seen by the Aegis-linked radars produces a unique track on the Aegis display.
The innovative UE-ISS 800 integrated sonar suit was specifically developed by Ultra Electronics to meet Australian requirements.
Rather than a traditional variable depth system with separate and heavy transmit and receive towed arrays optimised for deep, cold water search, it was decided that a single-tow sonar would provide an acceptable level of capability in the warm, crowded and relatively shallow waters to be found in the RAN’s most likely areas of operation.
The single-line UE-ISS 800 incorporates an active dual frequency towed array, a quad-directional passive receive array and a torpedo defence system. The design removes the need for large, expensive and complex handling systems for the hard-body transmit array, and the UE-ISS 800 deploys from a lightweight single-drum winch.
Ultra says the system reduces platform impact, allows greater freedom of manoeuvrability in confined and shallow waters, and provides for safe launch and recovery in higher sea states, and at higher speeds.
Importantly, information from the ship’s Ultra Electronics hull-mounted sonar together with that received from the towed array is processed within a genuinely integrated onboard system. This provides more robust, correlated and actionable data to the combat management system and ship’s crew than traditional sonar systems which only fuse data sets at display level.
Upgrades to the three AWDs are out towards 2028 under Project Sea 4000 Phase 6 at a cost of $4-5 billion.
These will upgrade Aegis to the latest Baseline 9 configuration, which in conjunction with more capable effectors will give the AWDs a terminal phase ballistic missile defence capability.
The 2016 Defence White Paper stated simply that the AWDs would be equipped with “new advanced surface to air missiles’ by the middle of the next decade and $2-3 billion is allocated in the Integrated Investment Plan for area air defence weapons – presumably the SM-6 Dual 1 with a range of about 370km – between 2018 and 2028.
A January 2020 media release by the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency referred to a possible FMS sale to Australia of “defence services for development and integration of a capability upgrade for the installed Aegis combat system on the Hobart destroyer, including Integrated Air and Missile Defence capability and growth capability for Ballistic Missile Defence”.
Speaking on the focs’tle of NUSHIP Sydney on 28 February, VADM Noonan told ADM that Aegis upgrades would be implemented as required to ensure continuing compatibility with the USN. Decisions on advanced weapon systems “will come later”.
This article first appeared in the April 2020 edition of ADM.