Future Frigate – Age of the disposable warship?
Even before a design has been selected, much less the first steel cut on the Navy’s Future Frigate, political influence has come to the fore. In August, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Defence Minister Kevin Andrews jointly announced that the Future Frigate, to be acquired under Project SEA5000, would be a continuous build programme and that the vessels would be constructed in Adelaide.
The selection of Adelaide is seen to be a political move by many observers, to bolster support in marginal Liberal Party electorates, against predictions by analysts that construction of the Future Submarine (SEA 1000) programme would occur offshore.
While the continuous build strategy is an effort to minimise the impact of the so-called ‘naval shipbuilding valley of death’ in Australia, and is welcomed by the nation’s shipbuilders, the details provided by the government raise more questions than they answer.
For instance, the number of frigates now to be built under the initial phase of SEA 5000 is not clearly stated, nor has the delivery schedule. It is also unclear if the ships themselves will have an artificially short service life, to ensure that shipyard(s) are kept busy well beyond the construction of the initial batch.
Furthermore, the government says the winning contender will be selected following a ‘Competitive Evaluation Process’ (CEP). Current planning is to cut the first steel in 2020, only five years from now, and even if this does prove to be achievable how this will affect the planned withdrawal of the current ‘Anzac’ frigates is also unknown at this time.
Project SEA 5000
Project SEA 5000 is designed to replace the eight Anzac frigates, which are currently receiving an Anti-Ship Missile Defence (ASMD) upgrade. The original timetable called for eight ships to be build from 2023, with First Pass Approval being obtained in the second half of 2016 and followed by Second Pass in 2019. Initial Operational Capability was scheduled to occur in 2027.
In an earlier bid to avoid a shortfall in naval shipbuilding capability it was announced that a study would be undertaken to examine whether a design using some of the hull blocks being fabricated in Australian shipyards for the Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) programme was feasible.
In addition, the project was directed to examine the integration of the Saab 9LV combat management system in use on post-ASMD Anzac ships (and the Canberra-class LHDs), as well as developments of CEA Technologies’ CEAFAR and CEAMOUNT phased array radars used on the Anzacs.