The government’s choice of Aegis as the combat system for the Navy’s nine Future Frigates means Australia could end up with 12 very advanced warships equipped with the capability to shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles, or those fired by anyone else.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced at PACIFIC 2017 on Tuesday that the Future Frigates would be equipped with the Lockheed Martin Aegis combat management system (CMS), along with the Australian CEA phased array radar.
Saab Australia, whose 9LV CMS was the other contender, didn’t miss out.
Saab Australia’s 9LV has been integrated with the CEA radar aboard the Anzac frigates and it will now develop an Australian tactical interface to manage non-US components on the Future Frigates, including the CEA radar and Nulka missile decoy.
As well, the Saab CMS has been mandated for future vessels such as the new offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) which don’t require high end air warfare capabilities.
Three firms – Navantia of Spain, BAE Systems of the UK and Fincantieri of Italy – are competing to build the Future Frigates with a decision expected early next year. Construction will start in 2020.
They will certainly be equipped with the latest Aegis iteration, Baseline 9, which, with the appropriate module and SM-3 and SM-6 missiles, will give them an advanced anti-ballistic missile capability.
The three Hobarts now have Aegis Baseline 8 but they will be upgraded to Baseline 9.
However, it remains up to the government to decide to go to a ballistic missile defence capability, a politically sensitive move, though one which successive governments have pondered for more than a decade.
With Aegis comes cooperative engagement capability (CEC) which allows Australian and other Aegis-equipped vessels, including those of the US Navy, to form a broad air or missile defence network through sharing of threat data.
Mr Turnbull said in the complex environment the Navy will confront, it needed the best capability for the Future Frigates to deal effectively with contemporary threats over and under the water.
That would ensure information could be shared with other ADF units and assets and allies and partners, including the US Navy.
This capability could also be upgraded to meet emerging threats and be supported and further developed through close ties with Australian industry.
Navy chief Vice Admiral Tim Barrett said this decision was vastly important, allowing certainty in development of the Future Frigates over a 30-50 year horizon.
“Enhancements that may be offered in the future are numerous and one of those may be ballistic missile defence,” he said.
Lockheed Martin said it was pleased that Aegis has been selected and this would provide Australia with the world’s most advanced multi-mission warfare capability, commonality with the Hobart DDGs and the capability to be interoperable across the Australian Defence Force and internationally.
“We look forward to partnering with the Commonwealth, the US Navy, the successful ship designer (when announced) and Australian industry to integrate, operate, and maintain the system right here in Australia, by Australians,” its statement said.
Saab Australia said its 9LV CMS had been the Navy’s combat system of choice for 30 years and was now the core of combat capability on Anzac frigates, Canberra class LHDs and new replenishment ships.
It was also used by navies around the world.
“Based on the expected life of these platforms, the 9LV CMS will therefore be in Royal Australian Navy service for the foreseeable future,” the company said.
What the government didn’t announce on Tuesday was just who would perform the all important combat system integration.
Mr Turnbull said that decision would be up to whichever of the three contenders was chosen to build the Future Frigates.
Raytheon Australia, which performed the Aegis combat system integration on the AWDs, said selection of Aegis was the necessary first step on the frigate project.
“Just as the early selection of Aegis for the AWD laid the foundation for a flawless combat system design and integration activity by Raytheon Australia, this announcement sends an important message that vital decisions for the future frigate project are now being made,” managing director Michael Ward said.
“While selecting Aegis demonstrates the importance of US interoperability and commonality with the AWD, the decision to utilise Saab’s 9LV to provide the national interface means that the Government is also focused on Australian industry.”