Very soon, the Australian government is expected to have picked a derivative of BAE’s Type 26 (designated GCS-A), Navantia’s F100 (F5000) or Fincantieri’s FREMM to be the Royal Australian Navy’s future frigate under project SEA5000.

This article was contributed by Australia based Ross White-Chinnery.

The winning design must be first-off a good ASW ship, ideally with hanger capacity for two SH-60R helicopters. The Australian CEAFAR2 radar, Aegis combat system matched with Australian designed consoles and strike length Mk-41 VLS are a stated requirement so AAW capability is not a major point of competition, though the recent decision to include ballistic missile defence capability may favour the F5000’s large VLS capacity. More on that point below.

This competition is however more than the usual warship beauty pageant. SEA5000 along with projects SEA1180 (OPV) and SEA1000 (Future Submarine) forms part of a broader plan to put Australian shipbuilding on a sustainable footing out to mid-century.

Australia has a long history of building ships domestically, usually from foreign designs modified to the RAN’s requirements. As is the story in many other countries however, the Australian shipbuilding industry’s fortunes have waxed and waned with the cycle between major navy projects. The only export or civilian shipbuilding of any significance in the country being confined to fast ferry specialists Austal of Henderson, Western Australia and Tasmania’s InCat.

As in the UK, local political sensitivities are also a factor. Under project SEA4000 modules for the Hobart class destroyers were built by yards around the country, being consolidated at ASC’s yard at Osborne, near Adelaide in South Australia. Under SEA5000 however it is expected all major fabrication and certainly all assembly will be done at Osborne. The terms of the competition do not compel bidders to work with ASC, but they are obliged to locate the work at Osborne. The decline of manufacturing in South Australia, recently punctuated by the exit of all major car manufacturers, has put immense pressure on all sides of politics to be conspicuous in their support the state’s other remaining major manufacturing industry.

With the so-called “Valley of Death” looming after the completion of the Hobart class, a sense of urgency has been injected into the acquisition process. The design must be able to meet the needs of the RAN out to mid-century, yet also sufficiently mature for the first steel cut to happen by 2020.

With the above in mind, let us look at the contenders as if we were a procurement manager. What do we see?

Type 26

This is the most promising ship from an ASW standpoint, but a harder sell as the UK doesn’t have a completed example to show off yet. It is also likely to be the most expensive.

However, it is also the newest and largest of the three designs. This is no small thing given that the ships produced under SEA5000 can be expected to form the backbone of the RAN’s surface combatant force into the second half of this century. It would be remiss of us not to consider where each offering is currently at in its design life, as well as its capacity to grow and adapt in what is likely to be a period of significant and rapid technological change.

In this regard the feature of the Type 26 design that really differentiates it from its rivals is the large mission bay amidships which opens both port and starboard, and aft to form a continuous space with the barn-like hanger. The significance of this is not to be underestimated. Far more than a glorified stores room it should be viewed as part of the ship’s fighting capability. From this space can be deployed USVs with lightweight fibre-optic towed array sonar in support of the ships core ASW role; or for surface reconnaissance, hydrography and mine counter measures in support of an expeditionary force.

From an industrial point of view, BAE benefits from significant presence and a long history in-country having expanded in Australia through acquisition of several local firms. Indeed, BAE Systems Australia is now the largest “local” defence company. BAE benefits particularly from their ownership of two yards in Australia: one at Williamstown in Victoria, and a facility at the Australian Maritime Complex in Henderson not far from Austal’s headquarters. Though the political impetus for the entire build to be done at Osbourne precludes significant utilisation of these yards, having this in-house cadre of skilled local personnel (many of whom have worked on previous RAN projects) can do BAE’s bid no harm at all.

BAE gets another tick on systems integration with key systems like the Mk 45 gun (not mandated, but likely preferred) and Mk.41 VLS already part of base Type 26 design. Even though it will be the first time these have been incorporated into a British warship, they will be old friends to BAE staff at Williamstown and Henderson who respectively built and upgraded the Anzac class frigates.

Likewise, Aegis has never previously been integrated on a British ship. This task is however more in the hands of Lockheed Martin, CEA Technologies and Saab Systems Australia than BAE. In any case BAE as an organisation is not totally bereft of experience with Aegis ships with the US subsidiary having performed modernisation of several Ticonderoga class cruisers for the US Navy.

The Australian government’s drive for defence exports has not gone unnoticed by the UK either with the British government to study the use of CEAFAR in future RN ships. The obvious implication being that the second batch of City class frigates could take after their Australian sisters – should they be built.

FREMM

The Italian ASW-focused variant of the FREMM known as the Virginio Fasan class is very good at what it does. Something we know because the Italians sent one over to show the RAN what it can do, and according to all public accounts it did so impressively.

The main questions regarding Fincantieri’s bid will likely centre around systems integration. Notwithstanding the Italian-derived design of the Freedom class LCS built by Fincantieri-owned Marinette Marine, the Italians stopped putting American weapons on their own ships a long time ago. Furthermore, apart from a speculative model of a FREMM fitted with SPY-1 radars, neither Fincantieri nor any other Italian firm has to this author’s knowledge had any involvement with a project requiring Aegis integration. The Lockheed Martin COMBATSS-21 system fitted to the LCS is however part of the Aegis “pedigree”.

A point of interest is that rather than adapting the design to mount the Mk.45 127mm Fincantieri seems to be pushing a design with two Strales mounts, the latest version of the OTO-Melara 76mm, specifically designed to fire guided rounds. Given the Marina Militare’s is happy mount a 127mm weapon on their GP designated FREMMs, one wonders if on the ASW variant a 127mm in the “A” gun position, rather far forward on the FREMM’s somewhat crowded foredeck, is a little more proximate to the sonar not far beneath it than is ideal.

They might also consider a bit of history: the Anzac class frigates SEA5000 will replace were originally to carry the old OTO-Melara 76mm but this was changed to the US Mk-45 127mm weapon at the Army’s insistence. The Anzacs were replacing all then currently serving ships with medium calibre guns thus leaving the RAN with no ship capable of providing shore bombardment unless that capability was put on the Anzacs. The absence of a 127mm weapon on the SEA5000 would leave the trio of Hobart class destroyers the only ships capable of fire support

Perhaps it is reasoned on the MM and RAN’s shared emphasis on AA capability which comes from both services’ main areas of operation falling well within range of shore-based aircraft. Whatever the reasoning, it should be questioned whether it is the best use of the bid team’s time to burden them with having to sell a customer on a new weapon system (along with the associated training and logistics overheads) when they really need to be pushing the exceptional qualities of the platform and the benefits of the industrial package on offer.

That industrial package is nothing to sneeze at either. Prior to the SEA5000 bid Fincantieri had no in-country presence in Australia but are working hard to remedy the situation. Through their newly established local subsidiary the company anticipates a share of fabrication work on Fincantieri’s civilian order book being done in Australia.

F5000

On first impression, this seems to be both favourite and underdog at same time. Navantia’s recent track record in Australia has been overwhelming, and they are bidding a ship they have already succeeded in selling to Australia once before. Yet doubt hovers over the Spanish contender for it is the oldest of the three and the only one that is not a “native” ASW ship.

It is not known if F5000 is proposed with electric drive. The absence of this feature would be a significant disadvantage vis FREMM and T26. On the other hand, it potentially introduces a point of technical risk that undermine their key selling point of design maturity. Worse still, none of ships with electric drive Navantia has built previously is a high performance ASW escort.

However, the Hobart is a much better ASW ship than the original F-100 and it is Hobart that the F5000 design is building upon. Furthermore, the Australian force context may not require absolute maximum possible ASW capability achievable in the surface platform component. With the UK’s poverty of other ASW assets the RN cannot afford anything less than the best possible ASW ships it can get. The future Australian ASW force however will consist of nearly twice as many P-8s, eventually to be joined by nearly twice as many attack subs as the RN is ever likely to have again.

In any case SEA5000 is required to be more than just an ASW ship. High level AAW and BMD capability on 6000-7000 tonne hull was anticipated for the Anzac class replacement as far back as the 2009 Defence White Paper. F5000 inherits the 48 VLS cells of F-100 which should be just about enough to take a few SM-3s for the BMD role while still having space for a decent load of other weapons. The type 26 and FREMM designs for Australia have both been modelled with 32 Mk.41 cells. The type 26 could likely fit another two eight tube modules to match F5000, though the FREMM already looks a little crowded at the front. (Here we might recall that the RAN had originally wanted a ship with 96 VLS cells.)

As a direct derivative of the Hobart class F5000 is more than just familiar hull. It would run on the same Navantia/SAGE Automation integrated platform management system as the Hobarts, Canberra class LHDs and Supply class replenishment ships. This is probably the most important point in terms of day-to-day operability of the ship from a sailor’s perspective. It means smoother transfers between units and less retraining. For the navy it means savings from being able to consolidate multiple training streams.

It is worth considering that Navantia and Australia are at this point very much known quantities to each other. The difficulties with both the Hobart and Canberra classes are well known, and the decision to send the replenishment ship build overseas, again to Navantia, was met with some bitterness in Australia. Despite this, indeed because of it, Navantia is a company which we now have a much-improved long term working relationship across three classes of ship.

The choice of Aegis as the combat system for SEA5000 further plays to Navantia’s strengths. They have built ten Aegis ships at Ferrol and been closely involved with another three at Osbourne. They have done more work around Aegis than anyone else outside the US and smooth integration of specified weapons systems should be almost a given. There is no system in the specifications Navantia is unfamiliar with other than the radar and that is just as unfamiliar to Fincantieri. BAE will however enjoy some insight on this point having installed the CEAFAR X-band medium range search and S-band fire control arrays on the Anzac class and will soon be receiving those ships back at Henderson to add the L-band long range search array in place of the old SPS-49 2D radar.

Navantia are offering to make Australia the design authority for F5000 and Hobart. This tunes their bid well to the government’s export ambitions. In fact, Navantia already has CEA Technologies, SAGE and SAAB Systems Australia signed up for their bid on the Canadian frigate project.

We have a very tight schedule to navigate between design selection and first steel cut in 2020. Navantia’s hull has already gone through Australian engineering standards compliance – that is one very big and time-consuming job that doesn’t have to be done on this ship which does on the other two. This is no less a consideration than the freshness of the type 26 design.

In summary, Australian choice for SEA5000 must somehow balance all the usual near-term cost and capability considerations with choosing a platform that will be relevant through a period of rapid technological change while also satisfying conflicting political imperatives for the build to begin as soon as possible and for the project to play its part in ensuring the long-term sustainability of shipbuilding in Australia. Piece of cake.

58 COMMENTS

  1. On VLS cells & the potential disadvantage of T26 RAN bid only having 32 x Mk41 in it’s reconfigured forward VLS silo vs F5000 48 x Mk41 might the T26 be able to close some of that gap?

    The article says “type 26 could likely fit another two eight tube modules to match F5000”. Hopefully that is true but if not, and actually even if it is, could the T26 RAN variant add even more capability by using the midships VLS silo area, used for 24 x Sea Ceptor in the RN version, to host some ESSM? Those are hot launch rather than cold so not sure if that is a showstopper but dimension wise ESSM isn’t a million miles away from CAMM (3.66m/0.254m length/diameter vs 3.2m/0.166m for CAMM). If, as I really hope, the RN T26 soft launch silos are sized for possible CAMM-ER use in future that reduces the difference between ESSM & CAMM-ER to 3.66m/0.254m vs 4.0m/0.19m so ESSM is actually shorter but a bit fatter than CAMM-ER.

    If it was possible then adding some capability to carry ESSM in a midships silo would take some of the pressure off the forward Mk41 silo if it can’t go bigger than 32 x Mk41 on the RAN T26 and if it could get to 48 x Mk41 to match the F5000 load then adding a midships ESSM silo would actually put RAN T26 into the lead as far as total VLS silo capacity is concerned even if only 16 could be hosted there. If 24 could be hosted that’s effectively adding 6 Mk41 tubes more than the F5000 has.

    It’s interesting to see the comment in this article “(Here we might recall that the RAN had originally wanted a ship with 96 VLS cells.)”. I guess the RAN takes, or at least was taking, a much more US “armed to the teeth” approach that the RN when it comes to this part of the design requirements.

  2. T26 would have stood a far greater such in this and the US navy frigate competition if we hadn’t sat on the design for the past 8 years.

    Much was promised in 2010 about the export prospects of the T26, sadly to date not one of those prospects has materialised into an actual order. Potential customer after potential customer has opted for a future that doesn’t include the T26.

    The UK should have had a T26 in service by now, if we had the future may have been brighter.

    • Mike,

      I couldn’t agree more… I made the same comment in a previous article….

      The three competitors are all buying up lots of advertising space on the tv channels…. beautiful adverts showing their ships at work, posing in Sydney harbourr, tours for the vip’s….. .Bae’s, funnily enough is all very obviously cgi….

      Such a shame there was so much prevarication over the type 26 project…. if one was in service now, i’m Sure that would tip the scales firmly in Bae’s favour…

  3. On paper the Spanish ship has to be ahead by a country mile. It depends on how seriously the RAAN takes the ASW requirement against its other needs.

    • Sad that a country with such a small population relative to the UK is building a far more capable ASW force than the mother of the RAN…

      Cheers!

        • I absolutely do Dave, I would like to see all of the 5 Eyes purchase either the T26 or the T31 for commonality during joint operations which I believe will only increase in the future. I can see the RNZN opting for the T31 as well as Canada (perhaps as part of a high low mix for the RCN).

          The USN should go with the design because high end is what we like and the T26 is nothing if not high end – however the design needs to be up armed for our requirements. BAE is a major U.S. defense contractor so there should be no problems working with them along with their stateside partner.

          Cheers!

  4. Best and worst of each competitor.

    T26 BEST modern design optimised for ASW. WORST unproven therefore greater risk.

    FREMM BEST inservice proven and low risk. WORST needs major customisation for RAN

    F5000 BEST established RAN supplier, design based on existing RAN warship. WORST doubts over ASW performance.

    Unknown factor is cost, I don’t have reliable data regarding that issue.

  5. I am quietly hopeful Bae have this in the bag. Australia seem to be uncompromising at the moment and want the best kit available. That is the T26.
    Australia seem set to be more militarily powerful than us soon in many areas outside carrier strike. I didn’t think their economy was big enough to support such a military spend.

    • Don’t forget that they don’t have CASD to fund. Notwithstanding that, they do seem to do a very good job of spending their budget well though.

      • I predict it’s only a matter of time that the RAN will add a cats and trap QE sized (maybe the QE design itself) to the fleet.

        Cheers!

          • Aussies cant afford it other wise they would of done it with the spanish designed heli carrier ships

          • I personally believe that the Canberras are just a way for the RAN to ease into full carrier operations the way the Izumos are serving the same purpose for the JMSDF.

            Very useful ships on their own and as even the UK MoD has admitted, cannot be replaced by a purpose built carrier. It’s evident when you watch this humorous look at the life of a USMC Jarhead at sea on one of our LHA.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=12&v=P70TgvtNvQQ

            Cheers!

    • In 2016 the UK economy ranked 5th in the world ($2.6 trillion USD) or twice Australia’s ($1.3 trillion) at 12th globally just ahead of Russia in 13th spot at ($1.2 trillion).

      The UK though has two and a half times the population of Australia’s 24.9 million people.

      This means on a per capita GDP basis Australia ranks globally at 17th spot ahead of the UK at 21st and Russia in 52nd spot.

  6. Australia has committed to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP, a rise from 1.5%.

    Australia never suffered a recession after 2007/8 banking crisis.

    Australia doesn’t have a UK style welfare state.

    Three reasons why Australia has lots of cash available to invest in defence. Their only problem, like ours, is they cannot recruit the personnel to man all these new weapon platforms.

    • Australia doesn’t have to (directly at least) fund a nuclear deterrent. I support the UKs nuclear deterrence but if we didn’t have it that’s a lot of money to spend on other aspects of our military. Realistically the saving would go anywhere but our military

    • Australia has a welfare state Mike lol. It’s not too dissimilar from the UK’s, apart from the fact that you have pay more for some health services.

      Australia, Singapore and New Zealand are in a much better fiscal position than the UK, but there is also more bipartisan support for increased defence spending in Canberra.

      • Matt, I said Australia doesn’t have a UK style welfare system.

        My uncle who emigrated to Australia in 1951 joined their Army fought in Korea and Vietnam was entitled to free healthcare based on his military service, other Australian citizens were not entitled to the same free healthcare they had to pay for it.

        It is my understanding that the Australian healthcare system is funded by tax, private insurance and the patient.

    • “Australia doesn’t have a UK style welfare state.”

      Actually Australia spends almost exactly the same amount per capita as the UK on welfare.
      UK $8,619 Aus $8,479 (OECD 2013 in US dollars)

      The hospital systems are run by the states largely with federal government money so there is some variation from state to state but in Queensland for instance, the public hospital system is free of charge to patients just like the NHS.

  7. In terms of capability the T26 is streets ahead. Obviously the others are more cost related if they are chosen. Personally if I were the Australians I would purchase T26 and make this the backbone of their fleet. Also it would integrate well with the UK as well in terms of operations. Post Brexit the UK will have greater military collaboration with both Australia, Canada and New Zealand so it makes sense to use the same weapons platform; especially if it is state-of-art like the T26. Cost maybe the deciding factor though but I hope not for the Australian’s sake. History tells us that you purchase inferior kit and it often bits you back later on.

    • “Post Brexit the UK will have greater military collaboration with both Australia, Canada and New Zealand…” Maybe. We’ll see.

      There seems to be way too much optimism (desperation?) about a reinvigorated Commonwealth or Anglo-sphere alliance post Brexit and a lack of appreciation of the changed perspectives of other nations, Australia in particular – militarily, strategically, economically and socially.

      It’s like an old girlfriend who abandoned you and told you to bugger off I’m gong to marry someone else (the EU) then when that didn’t work out and they got divorced decades later wanting to get back together. People (and nations) move on.

      “…so it makes sense to use the same weapons platform” Perhaps for the UK but not Australia.

      Whatever happens post Brexit, Australia’s major ally will remain the US, both because of its proximity (it is a Pacific power with a Pacific coastline) and the sheer size and strength of its forces compared to the UK.

      So it makes sense from the RANs perspective to have the same kit and high levels of interoperability with the USN. For example the Hobart AWDs have already demonstrated the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) with USN AEGIS equipped ships to hand off sensor and targeting data from one ship to another to launch missiles. Something the RNs T45s have yet to achieve.

  8. Does anyone know what the actual benefit to the UK would-be if Australia chose the type 26 given the hull, radar, sensor suite will be Australian and the the combat system and vls American?

    • Money in the pocket for BAE shareholders. They own the design and don’t they also own most of the Australian industry that would be involved?

        • Yeah. I’d assumed HMG would get paid license fees for the design. Whether those fees ever get credited to the defence budget or just go into Spreadsheet Phil’s “general receipts” column is another question however.

          • The IPR will remain with industry. HMG will have first free right of use and the right to receive an export levy from foreign sales. But Oz will demand and get free right of use as well, if they’re any good at contact negotiating! Also when best and final offers are on the table, and especially since T26 will be the most expensive, BAES will probably ask and get relief from HMG from having to pay the export levy. So there you go. The answer is NO. only the shareholders will make something out of it and I suspect not very much.

      • One GT per ship. The diesels are German though RR shareholders will benefit as RR owns MTU. The electric motors are GE from the US I think…

    • No.

      The FREMM & F100 are on that shortlist to give the impression of a fair competition.

      In reality a derivation of the Freedom class LCS will win FFG(X).

      The Navy are happy to double down on this ship if it helps cover the LCS debacle

        • Have to disagree – Although I’d like to see the T26 win, I think the FREMM will win out… Right size, good mix of capabilities, and most important – right on the money price wise…

          Cheers!

  9. The “risk” situation is incorrectly looked at from 1 perspective only.

    They will pick Navantia because they are perceived to be low industrial risk due to their already existing production base in Australia with the Hobart and Canberra class projects.

    However, everyone says that the F100 is a noisy ship.
    The pre-existing industrial base will be of little comfort if in the event of war an Australian task force prove to be very easy pray to Chinese SSNs/SSKs

    If they want the best ASW ship, they should pick that…. and that’s the T26

  10. On paper type 26 is the best ASW design. The FREMM class cannot fit MK41 vls which is a current requirement.
    They also do not have a mission bay for drones or UAV, usb, ussv
    The Navantia design are not quiet enough and do not have the sprint/ stealth characteristics for ASW and would be easily detected, targeted and sunk by any submarine from a sophisticated enemy.
    The type 26 really is the best choice and premiere ASW in existence now, it has growth and development potential whereas FREMM does not. If Australia want a frigate that is still at the forefront of ASW, Anti air warfare in 30 years time they will need the type 26s additional wide margin and growth potential.

    • “On paper type 26 is the best ASW design”
      As they say on Mythbusters ‘there’s your problem right there!’

      “The type 26 really is the best choice and premiere ASW in existence now”
      But its not in existence now. It sure has an impressive spec on paper though. Unfortunately, as the T45s propulsion issues demonstrate, sometimes the spec doesn’t translate in the real world. The RANs frigates will have to operate in tropical waters after all.

      • From Save the Royal Navy “The Rolls Royce MT30 gas turbine is already at sea on HMS Queen Elizabeth and is designed to work in hot conditions. It is actually 15-20% more efficient operating with an ambient air temperature up to 40º than the LM 2500 GT used in both of the other competing designs.”

  11. I hope the T26 frigate wins.

    However looking at all the information available, if the F5000 can meet the minimum ASW creteria set by the RAN it must be favourite.

    Tough decision to be made here for the RAN, if we had a T26 in service with the RN that actually demonstrates it’s superior ASW performance then things may be different.

  12. Guys, as an aside, get ready for T26 to have all sorts of problems for many years as they are introduced to service. All new complex defence programmes do. Unlikely that an export customer will be found for them until they are proven in service.

    • Im not so sure it will have to many issues.
      A lot of the systems are , taken as single entities, already proven on T23, T45 and QE. System integration between those systems should be ( !!! )straight forward as the integration requirements are already set out in numerous DEFSTANS etc and have been already proven. The fact that most systems are now open architecture and run COTS components makes things even easier.
      Artisan, Seaceptor, CSM-1, MT30, DGs, electric propulsion, Sonar, Mk41 VLS, Gun etc are all in service and proven systems.
      The one problem area I do see may be with the mission bay and how that works. That will be the great unknown as its not been done before on a UK vessel.

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