Unsurprisingly, future platforms with a total acquisition cost of $90 billion dominated the limelight in the naval domain over the past year.
Although more than two years have passed since Naval Group of France was selected to design and build 12 Future Submarines to replace the RAN’s six in-service Collins-class boats, the likely acquisition cost - $50 billion - the complexity of the project, and protracted contractual wrangling ensured that Project Sea 1000 retained its place on centre stage.
There it was joined by the $35 billion Future Frigate program and BAE Systems, who was selected in July under Project Sea 5000 to deliver nine Australianised Global Combat Ships (GCS) to replace the RAN’s eight workhorse Anzac-class frigates with the Hunter class.
Elsewhere, Spanish shipbuilder Navantia begun work on the second auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) vessel on order for the RAN, first steel was cut under Project Sea 1180 for the first of 12 Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), and for the first time the RAN and US Navy jointly tested the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) real time sensor netting system.
According to Rear Admiral Greg Sammut, head of the Future Submarine program, the concept design for the 4,700-tonne Shortfin Barracuda, including its dimensions, should be finalised by the end of 2018.
These would be “of the order” of measurements referred to in November 2017 by Defence Industry Minister – now Defence Minister – Christopher Pyne; namely a length of 97 metres and a hull diameter of 8.8 metres.
Concept design would be followed by the design phase, with detailed design work beginning in 2022. Production of hull sections would start around 2023 and the first-of-type would enter service with the RAN “in the early 2030s”.
However Chief of Navy Mike Noonan disclosed in November that test and evaluation activities meant the first Future Submarine might not be fully operational until 2035, some three years later than previously assumed.
To maintain capability, this could mean that more than three Collins-class boats would need to have their service life extended beyond their scheduled decommissioning in the late 2030s.
“If it needs to be more than three submarines, that’s the advice I’ll provide to government. And if it needs to be all six Collins-class submarines, that’s the advice I’ll take to government,” Vice Admiral Noonan said.
His recommendations will be made in the first half of 2019.
Not only the number of possible life extensions but their scope is currently far from clear. Life of Type Extensions (LOTE) have already been proposed for Farncomb, Collins and Waller, with Waller decommissioning in 2042, but pointed questions are now being raised about whether such extensions would centre simply on obsolescence management, or on maintaining the highest levels of warfighting capability. The Submarine Institute of Australia conference in November (see P20) looked at quite a comprehensive program of technologies that spoke more towards a true mid life upgrade than a ‘simple’ LOTE approach.
As part of a $232 million contract announced by Thales Australia in June, all six submarines are to have their legacy cylindrical sonar array replaced by a new modular cylindrical array (MCA) system. This is based on the Sonar 2076 integrated sonar suite deployed on the UK Royal Navy’s Astute and Trafalgar class submarines.
Under the same contract the company will also replace the Collins class’ existing flank arrays with “the latest generation” flank array system developed by Thales teams in France. The upgrades have already begun with HMAS Waller, which is now undertaking a full cycle docking at ASC’s facilities in Osborne.
Obsolescence management is currently focused on replacing the processor cards and boards in the Collins’ Saab-developed Integrated Ship Control Management and Monitoring System (ISCMMS), which provides manoeuvring and fully integrated ship management of propulsion, trim, power generation and ship services.
HMAS Collins has completed the ISCMMS upgrade, and Waller’s was scheduled to be completed before the end of 2018.
Meanwhile protracted negotiations were continuing in late 2018 between Defence and Naval Group on a vital Strategic Partnering Agreement (SPA) that is intended to set out terms and conditions that will endure over the course of the Sea 1000 program. As seen in the From the Source interview this month with Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne, the SPA was completed before Christmas.
Negotiations began in early 2017 but struck difficulties over the length of warranty periods to cover potential defects, together with the implications on high-level cooperation and technology transfer should there be any change in the ownership of Naval Group, 62.5 per cent of whose equity is held by the French government and 35 per cent by Thales.
Design work nevertheless proceeded throughout 2018, and ground works were scheduled to begin in December on the Future Submarine construction yard at Osborne North on the outskirts of Adelaide. The yard will be owned by the Commonwealth at part of the national naval shipbuilding infrastructure.
The projected high-end antisubmarine warfare capabilities of the 6,900-tonne GCS proved instrumental in beating its Italian and Spanish rivals to provide Australia’s next generation of future surface combatants, stated then-Defence Minister Marise Payne.
However, the top-tier requirements for the Future Frigate role had been progressively extended to also include anti-air and anti-ship missile defence capabilities close to those of the RAN’s three 7,000-tonne Hobart class Air Warfare Destroyers.
An Advanced Work Arrangement (AMA) signed by BAE Systems Australia in October covered work on maturing the design of what will be known in Australian service as the Hunter class; engineering plans, personnel requirements, and the establishment of infrastructure that will enable prototyping to start in 2020. Once again, Minister Pyne confirmed in his From the Source interview this month that he expects to see the head contract (that will also see the transfer of ASC Shipbuilding over to BAE) signed before Christmas 2018.
The Commonwealth is expected to retain a sovereign stake through which it will resume ownership once Hunter-class construction is completed there, of an entity capable of independently undertaking the design and construction of naval warships into the future.
Meanwhile in late November HMAS Arunta became the first of the Anzac class to complete the type’s mid-life capability assurance program (AMCAP) under Project Sea 1448 Phase 4B. AMCAP work began in September on HMAS Anzac and HMAS Perth, and all eight Anzac vessels will have been upgraded by 2023.
The AMCAP scope of work includes improvements to engines, propulsion, and the ventilation and sewage systems, upgrades to torpedo self-defence and to the Nulka active missile decoy system, a new communications suite including Link 22, and replacement of the Raytheon SPS-49(V)8 long range air surveillance radar with the CEAFAR2-1 phased array air-search radar.
In January the Commonwealth signed a contract with German shipbuilder Luerssen for the delivery of 12 1,761-tonne offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) to replace the RAN’s 13 300-tonne Armidale-class patrol boats at a total cost of around $3 billion.
Named the Arafura class in November, steel was welded the same month for the first of the two OPVs to be built by ASC at Osborne and delivered to the RAN in late 2021. Subsequent hulls are to be built by Lurssen working with engineering group Civmec at WA’s Hendersen Maritime Precinct.
In addition to their primary constabulary role, each ship can accommodate up to two containerised mission packages in the aft section for secondary roles such as hydrographic surveys and mine countermeasures.
In April Spanish shipbuilder Navantia began work on the second of two double-hulled auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) vessels which will replace the RAN replenishment ships Success and Sirius at a cost of $642 million (including initial in-service support).
Scheduled for delivery in 2020 and 2021, the 19,500-tonne ships Stalwart and Supply are based on the design of the Spanish Armada’s Cantabria, which deployed with the RAN in 2013 for 12 months. The first of the ships took to the water in Ferrol at the end of November.
In further construction progress, the first of 21 Guardian-class Pacific patrol boats was launched by Austal at Henderson in July, on-schedule and on-budget.
Deliveries will run until 2023 under a $305 million contract for 19 of the 39.5 metre steel-hulled vessels and associated in-service support that was awarded in May 2016, together with a further $29.7 million contract inked in April 2018 for two additional boats.
Moving to the big end of town, the RAN’s second AWD, HMAS Brisbane, was officially handed over to Defence in July 2018 and commissioned three months later. The third AWD, Sydney, was launched in May 2018 and is slated for delivery to the RAN in March 2019.
Unusually, three months before her official handover to Navy, NUSHIP Brisbane successfully completed a series of trials with AWD first-of-class HMAS Hobart of their cooperative engagement capability (CEC) off the coast of South Australia.
The CEC system allows the real-time sharing of sensor data on air targets, including incoming enemy aircraft and cruise missiles, among CEC-equipped units. The RAN’s Hobart-class AWDs are the first warships outside the US Navy to be equipped with the CEC system.
As Minister Payne pointed out at the time “not only does this capability enable us, for the first time, to share targeting data in real time between ADF assets, it will also enable us to share it with US assets, providing new levels of interoperability within a coalition force”.
Six months later her forecast proved correct when HMAS Hobart established secure data links with the US destroyer John Finn off the coast of Hawaii after which the two vessels shared tracking and fire control data. This marked the first time the capability was shared between two navies.
This article first appeared in the December/January 2018-19 edition of ADM.