With the SEA 5000 Future Frigate decision believed to be imminent, we summarise the contenders

HMAS Ballarat prepares to launch her MH-60R Seahawk helicopter as ships from Task Group 659.1 (including HMA Ships Canberra, Warramunga and Ballarat and HMNZS Te Kaha) transit to Pearl Harbour, Hawaii to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2016. *** Local Caption *** The Australian Defence Force is deploying three ships, three aircraft and more than 1650 personnel to take part in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2016 off the coast of Hawaii and California. The multinational activity held from 30 June to 4 August 2016 is the world’s largest maritime exercise and includes more than 25, 000 personnel from 26 countries. RIMPAC seeks to enhance interoperability between Pacific Rim armed forces, ostensibly as a means of promoting stability in the region to the benefit of all participating nations. The exercise helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.


The competition for Australia’s new Project SEA 5000 warships is drawing to a close, with bids in and considered, and a decision reportedly set to be announced during the life of this issue.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, Australia will end up with nine advanced warships and a new high-tech shipbuilding industry which will go some way to replacing the defunct car makers.

“It’s been a cracking competition,” noted one industry insider.

The new vessels, termed Future Frigates, will replace the Navy’s eight Anzac class frigates which were constructed by Tenix Defence – now BAE Systems Australia – at Williamstown in Victoria between 1993 and 2004. Two additional vessels went to New Zealand.

The Anzacs started out as modestly capable vessels, termed by one former coalition government minister as “floating targets.” But they have been steadily upgraded and, now with the Australian CEAFAR radar, Saab 9LV combat system and ESSM air-defence missile, they possess a world-class air defence capability.

With the first of the Anzacs reaching planned life of type in the late 2020s, the former Labor government spelled out the requirement for a new warship in its 2009 Defence White Paper.

What we needed, it said, were vessels designed and equipped with a strong emphasis on anti-submarine warfare (ASW) because of the proliferation of submarines across the region. The Navy had always possessed an ASW capability, but since the end of the Cold War and during its commitment to the prolonged Gulf campaigns, it had languished.

In August 2015, the coalition government announced Project SEA 5000 to find an Anzac replacement would be brought forward, with construction of the first vessel to start in Adelaide in 2020. The Competitive Evaluation Process was to start in October 2015.

But, more than just building new ships for the Navy, the government wanted to use this project as the foundations to re-establish a shipbuilding industry. So, it wouldn’t be enough for bidders to come up with a good ship – they also needed to show how they would create a whole new national capability and an enduring industry to support it.

In April 2016, the government announced a shortlist of three contenders – Spanish shipbuilder Navantia with its F5000 design based on its F100/Hobart class DDGs; BAE Systems Australia with the Type 26 Global Combat ship; and Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri with a design based on the FREMM multi-mission frigate.

On face value, each contender has its merits.

Navantia appears the lowest risk since it has already built three Hobart class DDGs in Australia, with the AEGIS Combat System integrated with an Australian Tactical Interface. But that project wasn’t without problems, and the construction ran very late and well over budget. But following reforms which saw a team from Navantia contracted to provide shipyard management services at ASC’s Osborne facility, performance has much improved and productivity on ship three is said to be approaching world best practice.

The company also has a supply chain in place to support the Hobarts and other Navantia vessels such as the Canberra class LHDs and the forthcoming AORs, along with the core of an experienced workforce.

BAE Systems’ Type 26 is the newest design, and is not yet in service. Construction of the first vessel for the Royal Navy started in July last year, and the British program is running about five years ahead of the SEA 5000 program. Type 26 draws extensively on the RN’s long ASW experience, and would appear to be the most capable and certainly the most modern ASW vessel of the three. The company says its wholly-digital design eliminates construction risk and will result in significant through-life benefits.

BAE Systems is well established in Australia, has more than 3,500 employees, an established supply chain and a strong shipbuilding pedigree through the Anzac frigates and Canberra class LHD programs.

Fincantieri is offering a version of its mature FREMM design that has been recognised to be one of the most versatile and advanced frigates in global production. Six FREMMS are in service in the Italian Navy, and another 12 are in service or in various phases of production for the navies of France, Morocco and Egypt.

Fincantieri has had no presence in Australia but it is a global shipbuilding powerhouse, the largest in Europe and fourth largest in the world, building warships, cruise liners and even luxury yachts. It is offering Australia a complete shipbuilding industry based on its experience overseas plus an entrée to its global supply chain network.

Already the government has made some important decisions. The new vessels will be built in Adelaide at an existing shipyard. The Commonwealth is funding development of the Techport facility where the DDGs and Collins submarines were built to accommodate the new ships and the SEA1000 future submarines.

Whichever design is chosen, it will be equipped with an Australian CEA radar, US Aegis combat system and Saab Australia tactical interface (see page 38). CEA radar and Saab combat system have proven to be a formidable combination aboard the Anzacs, while the 9LV has also been integrated aboard the LHDs, and has been designated for use aboard the new AORs and the SEA 1180 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV).

The Navy also wants the US Mark 41 vertical launch system to accommodate existing SM-2 and ESSM missiles, and likely future missiles with anti-ballistic missile capabilities such as SM-3 and SM-6.

Following is a rundown on the three contenders.

Italian Navy Frigate Carabiniere sails towards the entrance of Sydney Harbour in preparation for docking at Fleet Base East, Sydney, during the ships recent visit to Australia. *** Local Caption *** The Italian Navy FREMM (European Multi-Mission Frigate) Carabiniere will visit Australia from the 25th January until the 24th February 2017 with planned visits to Fremantle, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. ITS Carabiniere’s deployment is aimed to strength the on-going cooperation activities with some transregional allies and develop relations with potential partners. Main themes of the naval campaign is thus maritime safety and surveillance, cooperation strengthening and naval diplomacy.

FREMM will already be somewhat familiar to the RAN, with the Italian Navy’s Carabiniere (pictured) visiting Fleet Base East in early 2017, and French Navy Ship (FNS) Auvergne visiting the west coast in late 2017. Fincantieri’s SEA 5000 offering is based on the Italian design. (Defence)


Fincantieri’s global presence dwarfs any of the other SEA 5000 contenders. It is the largest shipbuilder in Europe and the fourth largest in the world, with 20 shipyards in four continents, almost 20,000 employees and 80,000 sub-contractors.

The company is a leader in cruise ship design and construction. It also specialises in naval, offshore vessels, ferries, mega-yachts and highly complex special vessels, and repairs and converts ships, delivers systems and components production, and provides after sales services.

Fincantieri is not well known in Australia, but its most prominent products – cruise liners – routinely visit Sydney and other Australian ports. Fincantieri is the world’s largest manufacturer of such vessels which range in size from luxury niche liners of 10,000 tonnes up to mega-vessels over 150,000 tonnes capable of carrying 5,000 passengers.

The global appetite for cruising is expanding. “The margin to increase is huge,” said Fincantieri Australia chairman Dario Deste. “If you think about China, very few people have taken cruises and now they are just discovering cruise ships.”

And it makes warships, so far eight FREMMs for the Italian Navy, with two more under construction. Vessel number eight, Antonio Marceglia, was launched on February 3. Last year the company also won a deal to construct four corvettes, two offshore patrol vessels and a landing ship for Qatar. Their forward order book totals 56 vessels valued at E18.5bn (A$29.6bn).

For SEA 5000, Fincantieri is offering Australia a 6,700-tonne, 144-metre vessel which in Italian service is configured in two variants, one for anti-submarine warfare and one as a general-purpose warship.

Deste said FREMMs are the backbone of the Italian fleet and are a well-proven capability. Italian FREMMS have conducted counter-piracy missions off Africa and participated in the humanitarian mission rescuing asylum seekers seeking to travel from North Africa to Europe. A FREMM also successfully tracked a submerged non-NATO submarine for five days without losing it.

Deste said FREMM had been designed to be extremely quiet, with internal machinery isolated from the hull. Just how quiet remains classified, but details on ship noise have been provided to the Australian Navy for the evaluation. Fincantieri engineers worked for two years just to design the sonar dome. Baseline sensors are a Thales hull-mounted sonar and Thales Captas towed variable depth sonar.

Significantly and unique amongst the three competing designs, the FREMM has dual hangars, allowing two helicopters to be embarked.

Deste said Fincantieri was offering Australia entry to their vast global market. Already the company has placed a pilot order with Australian steel maker Bluescope, and has also invited expression of interest from four Australian firms for trial construction of cruise ship hull blocks.

He said they wanted to create a sovereign shipbuilding capability and that he has a very precise industry plan. “We want a transfer of technology where Australia will be able to design a ship, any kind of ship. That is our commitment that is behind our offer.

Fincantieri senior vice-president for naval vessels Angelo Fusco added, “We look at this program as a ramp to launch other activities. It is clear even in the wishes of the government that just the domestic delivery program cannot be long-term. We generate the possibility that the industry can be self-sustaining by opening new markets.”

The Italian Navy – the Marina Militaire – have a high regard for their FREMMs. Vice Admiral Matteo Bisceglia, director-general for national armaments for the Italian Navy, said he had followed the FREMM program since it started in 2003.

“Right now, the only ship in the world that is state-of-the-art is the FREMM. FREMM frigates are really our pride. As an ASW ship, there is no other ship in the world,” he said. “Maybe in the future we will have better ships, but now there is nothing.”

Bisceglia said earlier Italian Navy ASW ships used a Raytheon sonar. “Now we have the Thales which is the best performing sonar in the world. The ship itself makes very little noise.”

Rear Admiral Davide Berna, head of the mine counter-measures forces of the Italian Navy and veteran of a series of operational deployment on FREMMs fresh back from a deployment, said Italy needed an ASW capability to meet NATO alliance requirements, especially with an increasingly bellicose Russia deploying more advanced submarines further afield.

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BAE’s Type 26 Global Combat Ship offering for SEA 5000 will share hull and propulsion systems commonality with similar vessels under construction for the Royal Navy. (BAE Systems)


BAE Systems Australia’s SEA 5000 contender is the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the newest design of the three. But the design program has been underway for many years, and BAE Systems says it has by far the highest design maturity they have ever achieved ahead of the start of actual production.

Type 26 is a vessel designed from the outset for ASW, although it also possesses significant multi-mission capability in terms of anti-aircraft warfare, and with a clear path for ballistic missile defence. To this end, at the start of life the ship contains significant growth margins in terms of power, weight and space to allow upgrades over its life.

BAE Systems Australia SEA 5000 managing director Nigel Stewart said vessel number one which is under construction in the UK is the SEA 5000 reference design, running about five years ahead of the Australian program. “We will be in production of ship three in the UK before we cut steel in Australia,” he said. “We look at the first SEA 5000 vessel as the fourth of class. It is definitely not the first of class.

“Five years is an ideal overlap. It will still be a very modern ship, but the UK is going to pick up the development costs and risks in the first of class. The UK is running an 18-month drumbeat; the Commonwealth is probably going to run around a 24-month drumbeat.”

Stewart said the Australian program would start with prototyping to prove the new construction facility at Techport, South Australia, with full production starting in 2022.

Design of Type 26 started in the UK in 2012. This is a wholly digital process which he says eliminates the risks in embarking on construction of a new type of ship in a new yard. “It will make technology transfer to a new shipyard much easier than with traditional engineering processes.”

That’s because the digital design will be a seamless process all the way through to production, integration and test. The company says the digital data set remains the single source of information, and each physical vessel source of information and each physical vessel has its own digital twin which will have enormous benefits in terms of through-life support.

It says this will also allow major elements of the design to be significantly de-risked before any steel is cut. That includes complex maintenance procedures such as removal and replacement of major items such as generators.

For the ASW mission, to ensure minimum radiated noise every piece of machinery is allocated a maximum acoustic budget. If a component is not within that budget, it needs to be modified or the shortfall made up elsewhere. BAE says its modern and fully integrated digital processes enable substantial maturity of design, much greater than traditional approaches, long before the first worker makes the first weld.

Stewart said the new shipbuilding facility at Techport which is now under construction by the Commonwealth, would be the best or one of the best in the world. He said all construction of hull blocks and integration would be performed at Techport. BAE Systems would use its facility at Williamstown as a key capability hub for design and sustainment, and for some of the supply base.

BAE Systems Australia is a significant and longstanding player in the Australian defence industry. It has operated in Australia for 65 years and last year ranked number three with turnover of almost $1 billion. It now has 3,500 employees.

Most recently, the company was prime contractor and also constructed superstructure for the Navy’s two large landing helicopter dock (LHD) vessels in Williamtown. As Transfield and subsequently Tenix, it constructed the 10 Anzac frigates between 1993 and 2004.

“We are part of the fabric of Australia,” Stewart said. “We have been building ships through Williamstown and Tenix for 50 years. We have a proud track record in Australia and we can be judged on what we have done over the past 65 years as well as what we will promise to do in the future if we are successful on SEA 5000.

“We understand the supply base very well,” he added. “We have a well-established set of Australian suppliers and over the past six months, we have engaged nearly a thousand people in supplier roadshows around the country.”

Stewart said the SEA 5000 program wasn’t just for construction of nine warships. “The tender is to be a partner to the Commonwealth for continuous naval shipbuilding over a 40 to 50-year period. The first part of that is delivering nine ships.

“We are not just approaching this in terms of ‘here’s our design’, it is far more than that. It is how do we deliver nine ships in a partnership and how do we leave significantly more capability and intellectual property at the end of the program so the Commonwealth and shipbuilding industry can be self-sustaining.”

Type 26 drew on the Royal Navy’s extensive experience with earlier ASW vessels, most recently the current Type 23, of which 16 have been produced and 13 remain in RN service.

For an ASW ship, advanced sensors are crucial. Type 26 will adopt the key sensors of the Type 23, including UK variants of the Thales CAPTAS 4 variable depth sonar, Sonar 2087 Low Frequency Active Passive (LFAPS) Array and Thales signal processing, which incorporates some unique UK IP. It will also feature the next generation 2150 active passive bow sonar currently being developed by Ultra for the RN.

Since Australia’s new frigates will also serve on a range of other activities besides ASW, the Type 26 has another very useful featureith its large multi-purpose mission bay – essentially an open space through the superstructure forward of the hangar.

The mission bay can accommodate a range of other mission equipment such as unmanned aerial and underwater systems. It could easily fit a second helicopter or several unmanned aircraft, along with tools and spares, 10 standard shipping containers with various supplies, additional accommodation, medical facilities, or even a prisoner lockup.

It could also be used for special forces equipment such as large rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) or even vehicles or disaster relief supplies, limited only by the 15-tonne capacity of the crane which permits independent loading and unloading in port.

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Navantia’s F5000 shares design features with the F100/Hobart class DDGs, but has been modified to better suit the anti-submarine warfare mission. (Navantia)


Navantia is no stranger to Australia, and its vessels comprise a substantial part of the RAN fleet. Two large landing helicopter dock (LHD) ships are in service, the first of three DDGs is in service with the second undergoing trials and the third to be launched shortly, along with two replenishment ships under construction in Spain.

For SEA 5000 Navantia is offering a version of the Hobart class DDG, and it wants to get on with the job. “We want an early decision, as early as is practicable so we can start real production, not some tokenism of fiddling with a few prototypes,” said Navantia Australia chairman Warren King. “I am talking about real production in 2020.”

King, who oversaw the SEA 4000 Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) project which resulted in the Hobart class while head of the Defence Materiel Organisation, said Navantia knew just how long it took to establish the workforce in South Australia to build the three DDGs. “We know how long it took to get them up to a fully productive level. Any delay will only add for the potential for the workforce to atrophy.”

In 2007 Navantia’s F100 design was chosen for the AWD project, but it soon encountered major problems, running more than three years late and way over budget. Just why has been extensively examined.

King said there were two key lessons. One was that the designer and builder had to run the program. Although AWD was a Navantia design, shipbuilding was performed by government-owned ASC, and only following a reform program did the project start to get on track.

The other lesson was that a shipbuilding workforce and the associated specialised management skills evaporated quickly. That occurred between the end of construction of the Anzac frigates in 2004 and start of construction of AWDs in 2012, a period that also coincided with the mining development boom.

King said following the reforms when Navantia was engaged to manage completion of the program, it had met every revised budget and schedule with productivity approaching world best practice.

Australian industry content (AIC) on the AWDs was over 60 per cent. “We are obviously going much higher than that for our (SEA 5000) tender because we have an established workforce and an established supply chain in Australia, (and) we will grow on that. I believe nobody will be able to get close to us. It is a fantastic number and deliverable. It’s based on real experience.”

But with construction of DDG NUSHIP Perth approaching its conclusion, worker numbers have fallen. “There is still a good core of skills at the moment,” King said. “But it’s important to get cracking to retain that workforce, and we can.

“More than individual workers, its actually workers in a team who know how to do that particular job. We have that team. We have lost a bit of the list, there is no doubt about that, but we still have the core.”

Navantia’s F5000 design is about 80 per cent the same as the Hobart class, with the addition of improved ASW and some minor modifications to the hull to reduce noise, and to the structure to accommodate the CEA radar system.

The Navy’s new MH-60R Romeo helicopters will form an integral part of an ASW capability, and have passed critical design review for operations on the DDGs.

With the F5000 design based on the Hobarts, there is a high degree of commonality of systems including propulsion, although the generators will be uprated. They also have the same Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS) as the DDGs, LHDs, and new AORs, so a sailor trained on IPMS on one ship can easily transfer those skills to another vessel.

The IPMS intellectual property has been transferred to Australia and now resides inside NSAG, a joint venture with SAGE Automation in Adelaide. This capability plus training is now being developed in Australia. King said their modelling indicated that commonality of systems would lead to multiple billions in savings in life cycle costs of the various vessels.

The F5000 design has already been adapted to meet Australian design standards which covers everything from electrical wiring, hatches, ladder angles, galley and habitability, to magazine fireproofing, fire suppression and blast protection. Getting all this right contributed to the cost and schedule blowouts on the AWD project, and King said the other two contenders would have to go through this process.

“Our ship is designed to the US military specifications, he said. “If Australia is going to create a competitive export industry, that puts us in a particularly good position.”

To this end, Navantia is pitching variants of the Australian F5000 and Hobart designs for the US Navy’s FFG(X) program and for the Canadian Surface Combatant program.

The Canadian offer features the Australian CEA radar and Saab Australia’s 9LV combat system. “If that offer was successful,” King said, “it would be without a doubt by a country mile the most significant Australian defence export ever.”

King said it was potentially very easy for the shipbuilding industry to end up looking like social welfare. “We have to be international best practice. Not only do we have to deliver the product at the best possible price for Australia but we have to be export-capable. No other country is going to take into account the social welfare benefit of buying a ship from us.

“We meet and exceed all the ASW requirements,” he added. “We have the best general-purpose offering of all the frigates, full stop! We have the least risk. We believe it will be the lowest cost and the lowest through-life support costs. We have a trained workforce in Australia and a supply chain able to start tomorrow.

“We went through all those teething problems with AWD. We (Navantia) get contracted in and since then it’s gone like clockwork. Why would you throw that all out?”


So which ship is best? This will be weighed up between two decisions, one military and one political – what’s the better ASW vessel for Australia, and which bid would best result in an enduring national industry with export prospects.

Perhaps most tellingly, Navy Chief RADM Tim Barrett told the RAAF Airpower Conference on March 20, “I don’t expect the ninth frigate to look exactly like the first frigate that we built.” #

This article appears in the March-April 2018 issue of ADBR.