The SEA 4000 Air Warfare Destroyer program lays the foundations for Australia’s future warship building capability
Australia, by its very location has, is, and always will be a maritime nation. We are overwhelmingly dependent on the sea for the vast bulk of our imports and exported goods, and thus, for our economic prosperity.
Because of this reliance on trade and Australia’s vast littoral and blue water area of interest, it is therefore vital that the Australian Defence Force maintains a modern, competent and professional Navy, one that can not only defend our maritime approaches, but can also seamlessly integrate into allied naval operations in the wider region.
So it is somewhat perplexing then that, until recently, Australia hasn’t sustained a viable ongoing major naval shipbuilding industry. Before the late 1990s, most of our surface combatants and support vessels were acquired from the UK or US and, while many of those were built here in small batches, there were long periods of inactivity in between. This inactivity resulted in trade and project management skills being lost to other industries, and as a consequence, long ramp-up periods, project management challenges, and quality control issues when new projects did eventuate.
Attempts were made to establish a continuous warship building program as part of the 2000 Defence White Paper (DWP), but funding uncertainties and other priorities following a number of regional conflicts and humanitarian missions, plus an arguably incorrect view by the DWP authors that surface combatants were too vulnerable, meant the continuous plan wasn’t funded.
But what was funded was what became the Project SEA 4000 Air Warfare Destroyer program, an effort to re-establish a modern fleet air defence capability in the wake of the imminent retirement of the John F Adams/Perth class DDGs. Some 19 years later and after a not inconsiderable amount of programmatic pain and advanced systems integration success, NUSHIP Sydney, the last of these Hobart class vessels recently commenced sea trials in preparation for its commissioning in early 2020.
The three Hobart class vessels have colloquially retained the AWD abbreviation in deference to the air warfare destroyer program which spawned them, but they are more correctly known as Destroyer Designated Guided (or DDG) or more commonly as guided missile destroyers. DDG more accurately aligns these vessels with NATO’s Standardisation Agency publication (STANAG) 1166 MAROPS – Standard Ship Designator System based on their displacement and firepower.
But regardless of their designation, these three vessels are without doubt the most capable warships ever built in Australia and operated by the RAN and, despite the their advanced ‘air warfare’ capabilities, for now they are also the most advanced anti-surface and anti-submarine vessels in the RAN as well.
The three Hobart class air warfare destroyers will assume the naval air defence mission from the four Oliver Hazard Perry/Adelaide class guided missile frigates (FFG), the last of which, HMAS Melbourne (III), is scheduled to be decommissioned in October 2019.
But despite there being no in-service cross-over between the classes, the new Hobart class has a more direct lineage to the RAN’s three Adams/Perth class guided missile destroyers (DDG), the last of which was decommissioned in 2001.
The much-loved Adams/Perth class were the first major surface combatants of US design to serve in the RAN, and these ships provided fleet air defence to the RAN and allies for nearly 40 years, including on ‘Yankee Station’ off the coast of Vietnam in the late 1960s. The ships underwent three major upgrades during their service lives, primarily to combat systems, weapons systems, and sensors.
The Perry/Adelaide class FFGs replaced the RAN’s River class destroyer escorts, six of which were built in Australia between 1959 and 1968 and which were based on the UK’s Type 12M Rothesay and 12I Leander class frigates. The FFGs entered service from 1980 with the first four being built in the US, while the last two were built at the Williamstown yard in Melbourne in the early 1990s.
The US-designed FFGs were initially designed as low capability ships intended to conduct escort and general purpose missions as the lower tier of the of the US Navy’s ‘high-low fleet plan’ to augment that service’s larger Spruance class DDGs.
The RAN’s four-phased Project SEA 1390 FFG Upgrade Project (FFG-UP) program of the 2000s saw four of the six FFGs receive a comprehensive upgrade to their weapons, sensors and combat systems. While all six vessels were originally scheduled to be upgraded, this was amended in 2003 to just four due to cost overruns, and the other two vessels were decommissioned in 2005 and 2008.
The upgrade saw newer RGM-84 Harpoon Block 1A anti-ship missiles and the RIM-66 SM-2 Block IIIA medium-range Surface to Air Missile (SAM) employed, plus the challenging installation of an 8-cell Mk 41 vertical launch system able to employ up to 32 shorter-range Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) anti-air missiles.
New sensors included an upgrade of the AN/SPS-49v4 air surveillance radar to the AN/SPS-49Av1MPU standard, a new AN/SPS-55 surface search and navigation radar, an upgrade to the Mk92 Fire Control System from MOD 2 to the MOD 12 standard, the addition of a passive Radamec 2500 electro-optical targeting system (EOTS), a multi-sensor Radar Integrated Automatic Detect and Track System (RIADT), and the replacement of the original AN/SQS-56 and MULLOKA sonar systems with the Thompson (Thales) Spherion set common to the then-new ANZAC class frigates.
But the upgrade was not without its problems, blowing out in cost by nearly 50 per cent and being delayed by four years. The original contract signed in November 1998 called for the sixth vessel to be re-delivered in 2005, but despite the reduction from six to four vessels, the fourth wasn’t accepted into service and SEA 1390 wasn’t removed from the government’s projects of concern list until late 2009.
The 2000 Defence White Paper (DWP) was the first formal Government document to identify the requirement for an air warfare fleet defence capability. This requirement had previously been identified by Navy, but was in part brought into focus following the 1999 Australian-led INTERFET mission in Timor Leste and the need to rely on US Navy support in the form of the Ticonderoga class Aegis cruiser USS Mobile Bay to provide air cover over Dili and the surrounding region to counter a potential Indonesian air threat.
Indeed, Australia’s inability to conduct a comparatively small operation like INTERFET less than 1,000km from our own shoreline without support from the US and other nations informed ADF planners for the next decade. Indeed, INTERFET and subsequent operations such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami recovery effort under Operation Sumatra Assist and the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) under Operation ANODE, informed the requirements for the acquisition of outstanding capabilities such as the RAAF’s C-17A Globemaster III transport, and Navy’s Canberra class LHDs.
In Robert Macklin’s paper, Air Warfare Destroyer: The Game Changer (ASPI, 2018), then Chief of Navy VADM David Shackleton described INTERFET as a “fundamental wakeup call for Australia”, adding that, “if it wasn’t for the US Navy, any air threat from Indonesia could have been a very big problem”. VADM Shackleton said that, “getting the AWD program into the 2000 policy statement occupied an enormous amount of my time and energy”, and “getting it in the White Paper literally was the game changer”.
Also proposed for the 2000 DWP was a 30-year naval shipbuilding plan, one which would have seen a continuous build of surface ships to immediately follow the then-notional AWD program. But, as Macklin’s paper says, 2000 DWP author Professor Hugh White believed surface combatants were becoming increasingly vulnerable. So, as VADM Peter Jones (Ret’d) told Macklin, “We missed out on the long-range plan, but we did get the DDGs”.
The 2000 DWP’s language identified that the RAN’s surface combatants, the six Adelaide class FFGs and the then-new ANZAC class helicopter frigates (FFH) lacked defences against modern anti-ship missiles that were proliferating in our region. It said that, while this would be addressed by the Project SEA 1390 FFG-UP, it added that ‘the ANZACs do not have adequate defences and have other significant deficiencies in their combat capabilities.’
In many ways, this laid the foundation for the multi-phased SEA 1448 ANZAC Anti-Ship Missile Defence (ASMD) program which was completed in October 2017, and the follow-on ANZAC Mid Life Capability Assurance Program (AMCAP) upgrade, the lead vessel of which – HMAS Arunta – returned to the water for trials in July 2019.
Apart from ensuring the ANZAC class can effectively meet its planned withdrawal in the late 2030s, the extensive SEA 1448 program also gave the RAN its first experience operating an advanced phased array radar and integrated combat system through the world-leading Australian-developed CEA CEAFAR and CEAMOUNT sensors.
The 2000 DWP also highlighted the requirement ‘for a long-range air-defence capacity in the fleet.’ It said that, ‘Without such capability, our ships would be more vulnerable to air attack, less capable of defending forces deployed offshore, and less capable of contributing effectively to coalition naval operations.’
It said, ‘the FFGs are planned to be replaced when they are decommissioned from 2013 by a new class of at least three air-defence capable ships. It is expected that these ships will be significantly larger and more capable than the FFGs. The project is scheduled to commence in 2005-06. The Government’s strong preference is to build these ships in Australia, which will provide significant work for Australia’s shipbuilding industry.’
The 2001-2010 Defence Capability Plan (DCP) which followed the 2000 DWP saw the Project designation SEA 4000 Maritime Air Warfare Capability allocated to the program, with an anticipated year of decision (YOD) of 2007/08. The DCP said, ‘SEA 4000 seeks to provide the ADF with an affordable maritime air warfare capability as a complementary part of a comprehensive, layered air defence capability for the ADF.’
This passage also shows the ADF was also laying the foundations for what would become the Project AIR 6500 Joint Battle Management and Integrated Air and Missile Defence System. While the Hobart class DDGs were the first major elements and the outer layer of this system, another key element is also being acquired in the form of the LAND 19 Phase 7B Raytheon/KONGSBERG Enhanced NASAMS short-range ground-based air defence (SRGBAD) system.
The requirement for the delayed AIR 6500 integrated battle management system is scheduled to be defined in the next few years for deployment in the late 2020s, as is a medium-range (MRGBAD) capability which will slot neatly between the Enhanced NASAMS and the DDGs.
The 2001 DCP went on to say that, ‘Stages of SEA 4000 include:
· A series of funded studies between 2001 and 2003, which will support and quantify the Government agreed capabilities inherent to these platforms. Support for the studies is being provided by many areas within Defence and will be conducted in consultation with industry.
· A more detailed concept design and costing study and analysis based on the options identified in the earlier stage.
· A preliminary and detailed design stage to define the capability design to be acquired and built.
· The acquisition and build stage will commence in 2005/06. The exact number and timing of each build will be determined in the earlier study and design stages.’
The more detailed SEA 4000 section near the end of the DCP forecast a YOD of 2005/06, and an optimistic in-service delivery of 2013. Even more unrealistically, it also forecast an estimated phase expenditure for the project of $3.5bn to $4.5bn.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the ten 4,000t ANZAC FFHs based on the German Blohm+Voss MEKO 200 design were constructed for the RAN and the Royal New Zealand Navy at Williamstown. But as highlighted above, despite the best efforts of Navy, an opportunity to maintain or even expand this skilled and valuable workforce and capability beyond the ANZAC build run and roll it into a continuous build program of warships was missed. Thus, the ANZAC workforce was released and moved on to other industries such as the then-booming resource sector.
The fitting out of the two Canberra class LHDs by BAE Systems at Williamstown from 2012 to 2015 was ultimately a successful undertaking. But the LHD hulls were constructed by Navantia in Spain, and no large ship hull block fabrication or major propulsion and engineering systems installation work had been conducted by a local workforce between the end of major construction on the ANZAC program in 2004 and Forgacs commencing hull block work on the first AWD in Newcastle in 2010/11.
But despite this, it was believed a build program of the three AWDs could be successfully achieved within the forecast budget and schedule.
The next iteration of the DCP published in 2004-2014 started to put some ‘meat on the bones’ of the SEA 4000 program, with three distinct major and two minor phases outlined in the document.
The initial Phase 0 had already been completed by that time, and comprised a series of funded studies undertaken between 2001 and 2002 to identify capabilities for the vessels in consultation with industry and other areas of Defence.
Phase 1C was a further study phase that explored various ship platform options to provide the desired affordable maritime air warfare capability. For this, industry was also engaged to help mitigate risk prior to the SEA 4000 acquisition phase and to inform the design phase.
Phase 2 was to be the design phase of the project, where concepts were developed into detailed and fully costed designs prior to entering into contractual arrangements for the build phase.
Phase 3 was the build phase, and the 2004 DCP stated that ‘the exact timing of each build will be determined from the outcomes of previous phases’, but stuck to the previously proposed in-service date for the first ship of 2013. The final Phase 4 was proposed as the Test and Acceptance phase.
A 2013 Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report into the project says ‘The AWD Program has four principal objectives: deliver an affordable Maritime Air Warfare capability to meet Australian Defence Force (ADF) requirements, within established schedule and cost constraints; markedly improve the overall capability of the RAN’s surface combatant force; build the ships in Australia, thereby sustaining and providing significant work for Australia’s shipbuilding industry; and establish and sustain a design capability in Australia that can support the evolution of the ships in service in a responsive and cost‐effective manner.’
EXISTING OR EVOLVED?
First Pass approval for the project was granted by the Howard Government’s National Security Committee (NSC) of cabinet in May 2005, and this saw the project proceed to the Phase 2 design phase.
This phase saw the development of two competing platform designs. The first ‘existing’ design was a modified or ‘Australianised’ military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) design based on Navantia’s F-100 Alvaro de Bazan class frigate, of which there are five in service with the Spanish Armada. The ‘evolved’ option was loosely based on Gibbs & Cox’s Arleigh Burke class DDG 51 design, colloquially dubbed ‘Arleigh Burke-light’, but which in reality was an almost new design.
The B+V F124 design was also considered early in the process, ostensibly due to its similar design features and philosophy with the B+V MEKO 200 design upon which the ANZAC class frigates were based. But it was rejected early reportedly because, at less than 6,000 tonnes it was considered to be too small to fulfil the role, and because the German design had never been integrated with the American Aegis combat system.
First Pass dictated that both hull designs would be specified with the Aegis system and the AN/SPY-1D(V) electronically scanned array radar, that ASC AWD Shipbuilder Pty Ltd would be the shipbuilder, that the vessels would be built at Osborne in Adelaide, and that Raytheon Australia would be the combat system systems engineer.
Former Alliance CEO and currently Raytheon Australia’s Head of Campaigns, Rod Equid told ADBR that the combat system systems engineer’s initial role was to work with the Commonwealth to define and refine the vessels’ requirement set.
“The SEA 4000 project office had taken a decision that it was going to be an Aegis-based system, but the rest of the combat system wasn’t decided at that stage,” he said. “There was a view formed that there wasn’t a completely suitable existing design for the AWD, but there was also an interesting and fairly pervasive view that a large ship would cost too much, and what was sought was a Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) like capability but in a smaller platform.
“Gibbs & Cox had won the design competition, and they were to produce a new design for AWD,” he added. “The evolved design had DDG 51-like technology in it, and all the early betting money was on that evolved design. But the NSC had instructed that we were to go forward with the evolved design to be contrasted with an existing off-the-shelf solution, and the F-100 was picked as the most suitable.”
In late 2006 the AWD program appointed Equid to lead the evolved design effort. “We had people working on the combat system from Raytheon, and we had a large number of people from Gibbs & Cox and a few from (Arleigh Burke shipbuilder) Bath Iron Works,” he said. “As part of Phase 2 there were also people from ASC doing planning work for the build of evolved design – things like costing it, and looking at schedule and risk etc.
“The first significant decision was taken to make the combat system common to both ships, which meant that from a capability point of view, it really became a competition between the two platforms, not between the combat capability. It was a great outcome for the Commonwealth because it gave a lot of clarity – you’re getting almost the same combat capability irrespective of the platform choice. There was a little bit less capacity on the existing ship compared to the evolved design, but the decision really then came down to cost schedule and risk.”
Also in late 2005, the Government directed that the AWD program would be delivered by an innovative alliance-based contracting strategy, and the AWD Alliance was formed between the Commonwealth and two industry participants – ASC Shipbuilding and Raytheon Australia.
The goal of the AWD Alliance was to deliver ‘best for project outcomes based upon a pain-share and gain-share contracting strategy’, and it was the first ADF procurement project of such a magnitude to use an alliance model.
More specifically, ASC Shipbuilding was established as a subsidiary of ASC to be responsible for project management, production planning, platform systems and materiel procurement, construction and physical integration of the ships including block subcontracting, combat and platform systems installation, ship test and activation, and the development of an integrated‐lifecycle‐support solution for the platform system.
Raytheon Australia was to be responsible for project management of the combat system scope, combat system architecture and design, procurement of combat system equipment, integration of the Australian elements of the combat system, combat system test and activation, and the development of an integrated‐lifecycle‐support solution for the combat system.
The 2013-2014 ANAO report into the AWD program noted, ‘There are a range of potential benefits, issues and risks associated with alliance contracting arrangements. The benefits include the ability to apply a pricing structure which provides a strong incentive to motivate the non‐owner participants to deliver the project on time, at cost, and in accordance with requirements; and for the participants to collectively, collaboratively and flexibly manage project risks and issues.’
“The Alliance approach has been subject to extensive commentary, notwithstanding I would say that few really understood what it meant,” said Rod Equid. “The rationale for it was elegantly simple, and relates to the work required to complete a complex capital warship.
“Broadly, the division of scope on a cost basis was roughly 40 per cent combat system, 40 per cent platform, and 20 per cent project management,” he added. “The view was that no one organisation in Australia had expertise across all elements of scope, and a mechanism was sought to encourage high levels of cooperation with participants focussed on the overall outcomes.”
Equid’s equivalent at ASC was John Gallacher. “John was a great champion of the Alliance approach based on his good experience from the oil and gas sector,” said Equid. “And we were aligned in agreeing it was our job to bring our respective corporate organisations along for the journey.
“While we drew staff from our exiting organisations, growth of the team was based on attracting many new hires, and we worked hard to establish the project execution team, ie the Alliance, as a virtual organisation without company badges and total focus on the project outcomes.”
Current AWD Alliance General Manager, Paul Evans joined the program in 2007. “It has been a fascinating journey as you can imagine,” he told ADBR. “The start-up is a phase where everyone’s excited and we were doing huge amounts of work to prepare the new organisation.
“My background is in aerospace with Air Force, so shipbuilding is something on quite a different scale,” Evans added. “But I think for everyone involved, it’s fascinating. It’s a complex organisation – the Alliance is something that hasn’t been tried before with Defence, certainly on this scale, and the technology is also new. At the time we had a new shipyard, and we had to go out and find a new workforce. We didn’t have the design at that point, so we were going through a hectic phase to understand what was ahead of us.”
Former RAN marine engineer and currently CASG’s Assistant Secretary Ships Acquisition – Specialist Ships, Peter Croser recalled how he established the evolved solution team. “I was asked to set up Gibbs & Cox in Australia and became the CEO and the first employee,” he told ADBR. “I grew it to 50 people, and developed the evolved solution with Rod Equid and a team of Australian and US people to design a competitive solution to be evaluated by government.”
Ultimately, in mid-2007 the two competing designs were brought before a capability options review board which comprised the chief defense scientist Dr Roger Lough, the head of the DMO Dr Stephen Gumley, Chief of Navy VADM Russ Shalders, the head of Capability Development Group (and now Governor General) LTGEN David Hurley.
The announcement of the winning AWD design was made by then Prime Minister John Howard on 20 June 2007.
“The Government has decided to purchase the Navantia designed F-100… as the next generation Air Warfare Destroyer for the Royal Australian Navy,” PM Howard said at the media conference which was also attended by then Defence Minister Dr Brendan Nelson, and VADM Shalders.
“There will be three ships delivered under this project,” the PM said. “They will be delivered in 2014, 2016 and 2017; the aggregate cost will be in the order of $8 billion. This does represent a massive lift in the Royal Australian Navy’s air warfare capability. These vessels will be able to perform the full spectrum of joint maritime operations including area air defence and escort duties, including, importantly, for the amphibious ships.”
The selected design was – rather than being based on the lead ship of the F-100 class, the F-101 ESPS Alvaro de Bazan – was actually a hybrid of the later F-104 ESPS Méndez Núñez and F-105 ESPS Cristóbal Colón, both of which incorporated minor improvements over the earlier lead vessels of the class. Despite being designated as frigates by Navantia and the Spanish Armada, the F-100 class is considered to be much closer to a destroyer in terms of its displacement and firepower.
Each of the three Hobart class DDGs is made up of 31 ship sections or ‘blocks’ which have been constructed at various shipyards in Australia and overseas, these being ASC AWD Shipbuilder at Osborne in Adelaide, Forgacs in Newcastle, BAE Systems Australia at Williamstown, and later, by Navantia at Ferrol in Spain. As shipbuilder, ASC was tasked to consolidate those blocks at Osborne, while Raytheon Australia was responsible for the integration of the vessels’ sensors and its combat and weapons systems.
The original approved build program projected the first vessel, HMAS Hobart would be commissioned in December 2014, with HMAS Brisbane scheduled to follow in March 2016, and HMAS Sydney in June 2017.
But the complexity of these advanced ships notwithstanding, this distributed construction model presented another level of complexity of its own, especially for such a small build run.
Through all ship build runs, a program will realise increased productivity on each vessel through economies of scale, as processes are streamlined and efficiencies are found, and as workforces become more experienced and skilled. But for a run of three ships, even one based on an existing design, such efficiencies are difficult to amortise across a relatively small program, and schedule and cost overruns are hard to make up.
“I’ve been doing this for a while, and I could show you some examples where, internationally in most shipyards, it normally takes about four ships, building that the same type of ship four times before you get down to what would be baseline productivity level,” former AWD Program Manager, CDRE Craig Bourke told ADBR.
And so it was with SEA 4000. The re-establishment of the warship building capability in Australia with a skilled but immature workforce, the distributed block build program which saw blocks delivered with varying quality, the decision to not include the shipbuilder of the original design in the AWD Alliance or at least in a consultant capacity, and the integration of US combat and weapons systems with a European hull design and a high percentage of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components all took their toll on the program’s schedule and budget.
One of the best decisions that was made was to engage Raytheon Australia as the combat systems integrator early in the process. This resulted in the combat systems integration work running smoothly, with the opportunity for testing to occur early on in the project, thus minimising the combat system risks to the project.
Early in Macklin’s paper, he stated that, ‘The AWD procurement was like no other. It involved the reluctant departure from office of two defence ministers; it fell into almost every organisational pitfall imaginable; it ran wildly over budget and schedule; yet it lay the foundation for a continuous naval shipbuilding industry for the first time in Australian history.’
While elements of this statement may seem harsh or excessive, they are not without foundation. Yes, as we shall see, the project ran over budget and schedule. And yes, more than two defence ministers departed office during the program’s construction.
But to be fair, one of them – Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon – was ousted for unrelated issues. And while Senator David Johnston’s removal from the portfolio could be more closely linked after he declared he “wouldn’t trust [the then government-owned ASC] to build a canoe”, it was reported that Johnston also clashed with then Prime Minister Tony Abbott on other defense related issues.
It should also be noted that four PMs have also been ousted from office in that time, so it is perhaps a reflection of a period of political instability rather than being attributable to the program’s early failings!
And as for ‘every organisational pitfall’, that perhaps is the most excessive comment. While it can reasonably be argued that there were project management and quality control issues, the AWD Alliance and the wider organisation was robust enough to be able to recognise these issues, and to restructure the program in order to be able to deliver three superb warships.
“Lots of people will give you lots of reasons for why it got to where it was, but essentially you can always put it down to lack a leadership and lack of accountabilities,” CDRE Bourke said. “In any complex program there needs to be sound and solid leadership and solid accountabilities framework. In the absence of that, a clear direction is lost – you can’t have thousands of people working on a single program with different directions, and expect to have success.
“But there were some other aspects that led to many of the problems that we experienced – I’ll call it the conspiracy of ‘news’, as in new things,” CDRE Bourke added. “It was a new shipyard – before these ships were built this was a great brownfield site, no wharf, no ship lift, no construction buildings. It was also a new workforce, and they had never built surface ships at Osborne.
“Shipbuilding is difficult – it’s inherently complex,” he said. “Aircraft have thousands of equipment items and hundreds of suppliers. Ships and submarines have millions of equipment items and thousands of suppliers. So if you drew a curve from like white goods, cars, aircraft, and then ships and submarines, it’s exponential.”
Peter Croser pointed towards the complexity of the project as a contributing factor. “Back when I was in industry for a while, I was involved in the development of complex project management courses and systems engineering courses,” he said. “But I realised that this is one of the most complex projects that I’ll ever be on, and part of that complexity was aligning all those stakeholders and interests to a set of values which we all signed up to and committed to.
“When I walked in everything seemingly was going swimmingly,” Croser added. “But when I looked at the details, I realised it wasn’t going swimmingly. So, not only did I have alignment as complexity, I was now responsible to tell government that we’ve got a real problem here.”
It has been reported that program costs were getting out of control and that a firm schedule was unable to be agreed upon. Further, the relationship between the Alliance partners was reportedly strained over contractual obligations, a factor which added further risk to the schedule. “My view was, this is not good,” says Croser. “We went up and we got support to reform it, to identify the issues.”
Despite early assessments that the combat system was where much of the program risk lay, the majority of the significant problems arose in the steel and welding part of the build, the part which had been expected to be straight forward. While the steel and welding work coming out of Forgacs met specification, there were well-publicised keel block problems experienced by BAE Systems.
“Time moved on and there was a changing of the guard at ASC corporate, John Gallacher left the program, and the relationship with ASC corporately was not as strong as it had been,” recalled Rod Equid.
“I would not suggest that there was any one root cause, and no attribution of blame is worthwhile,” Equid added. “But there is not much question in my mind that certain things had influence, including the lack of experience which had atrophied at Williamstown, certain production nuances necessary to get a good outcome for the particular blocks, schedule pressure, and the lack of full engagement of Navantia as the one organisation that had built these blocks before.”
In an attempt to minimise the schedule impacts, the Alliance shuffled the hull block work between the three Australian production sites, and also commissioned some block work in Spain.
Director General Naval Construction Branch, CDRE Steve Tiffen described this period as ‘dark days’. “We think it was pretty obvious at the time what we thought we should do, and that was to get some designer experience in the yard,” he said. “I think one of the concerns in what we did with the program was we didn’t include the designer in a fundamental role in managing the construction work, and isolated the designer to a design role only, and I think that’s caused us some pain through those early years.
As the hull for Hobart was consolidated and it entered the complex ship completion phase, it became obvious that productivity was heading in the wrong direction. While the Alliance was formally reporting a $300m cost overrun, another report assessed that it could be as much as $1 billion. It was then that Warren King who was the head of the DMO commissioned an independent review.
In June 2014, the Government took delivery of the White-Winter Report into the project.
Notwithstanding the non-release of the report, a ministerial release stated that problems had occurred in the following areas: the initial program plan; inadequate government oversight; the Alliance structure’s capacity to manage the project and deal effectively with issues if and when they arose ; and the performance and capabilities of ASC and major subcontractors.
In order to respond to these problems the Review recommended a reform strategy that, the Ministers asserted, would:
- improve shipbuilding productivity at ASC and its subcontractors BAE Systems, Forgacs and Navantia;
- include the urgent insertion of an experienced shipbuilding management team into ASC; and,
- after an augmented shipbuilding capacity has been put in place, pursue the reallocation of blocks between shipyards to make the program more sustainable.
“We got help from the Winter-White Report to state it to government in a way that was clear, and we then implemented a process of bringing in a ship designer/builder who could guide the build to conclusion in a schedule that was achievable,” said Croser.
While Navantia had a presence in each of the shipyards that were building the various blocks, Croser says they weren’t being sufficiently consulted on the various build problems that were being encountered.
“They have all the know-how of how to build these ships, they’ve built five of these class,” he said. “So, I wondered why the shipyards weren’t talking to them about how to solve these problems – no-one was going to where the IP exists for how to do this correctly.”
Croser says he found the shipyards were actually generating more issues by not consulting Navantia. “Because they were deviating from the build strategy of Navantia and deviating from the build concepts, they were generating their own way of doing business and failing at it.”
The Winter-White Report recommended the integration of an experienced shipbuilder management team into the ASC shipyard, and this was competed between BAE Systems and the F-100 OEM, Navantia.
“We needed to bring an experienced shipbuilder designer to the table, and Navantia was that group,” said CDRE Tiffen. “And I think what you’ve seen is that lesson has now been picked up by the naval shipbuilding plan of 2017 which has the designer-shipbuilder as a key role in the design and construction going forward.”
Croser explained that BAE Systems and Navantia were asked how they would reform the program. “We asked them to convince us how they would unravel this and deliver to the schedule, commit to a performance, and deliver capability to the Navy,” he said.
“Both (companies) went in and assessed where the build was at with respect to all the ships. We did the evaluation clean, but the logic said the guy that understands how to build the ship and who designed the ship can best assess where the build is at.
“When Navantia won the contract to come in as the building oversight organisation, they brought their design knowledge which was a big advantage,” he added. “They could bring their build knowledge, but they also knew something about the ship because they can identify where we were at much easier. So we told them, ‘You drive the strategy, you drive the sequence, you have to interface well with the ASC management in a way that it’s non-confronting, and you need to commit to a schedule’.”
Following the reschedule, the projected delivery dates of the three ships had slipped nearly three years. Hobart was now due to be commissioned in June 2017, Brisbane would follow in September 2018, and Sydney is scheduled for May 2020. These revised milestones have held since early 2015, and Sydney remains on track.
“Some of that badness was because we were progressed as far as we had before reform,” said CDRE Bourke. “Ship two was a different kettle of fish. And from ship two to ship three were very much in line with what you’d expect to be industry best practice for learning.
“We were coming down the learning curve,” he added. “And we shouldn’t be surprised about that because, by that stage we had an experienced and competent ship-building management in place. We had experienced trades that were no longer new. We had a now-proven shipyard, we had an established supply chain, and we now had mature work orders. So we should have expected this to come much more in line with industry norms.”
Another initiative was the creation of a project management office within the Alliance that centralised the budget and schedule activities across the whole of the project. This effort, led by Raytheon Australia effectively provided a whole-of-project approach to managing the entire program, rather than managing each ship’s budget and schedule separately.
Peter Croser recalls the point where he thought the reform program had worked. “It was the day that we launched Hobart,” he said. “To me, that was a sign that we’d turned the corner, the ship was consolidated, we were about to start builders’ acceptance trials and sea acceptance trials, and start to light off systems.
“So, for me, that was a sign that we’d turned the corner, we had a ship, and we had another one in build. At that time, Brisbane was probably 40-50 per cent consolidated on the hard stand and was moving along fast. So, we were back in swing, even though we were 32 months behind the original schedule.”
Raytheon Australia Managing Director Michael Ward says the Alliance really pulled together to get the project to a successful conclusion. “I think across the course of the program the Alliance has taken a bit of criticism,” he explained. “Largely, I think that’s because people didn’t really understand how the Alliance worked. I will say the Alliance has worked very collaboratively to do something that’s never been done before in Australia on this scale and of this complexity.”
In recognition of Navantia’s impact on the AWD program, in early 2018 the company was designated as the Class Manager for the new Hobart class DDGs.
“This decision is the largest, most valuable transfer of intellectual property that I am aware of in the history of Australian defence industry,” Chairman of Navantia Australia, Warren King said in a February 2018 statement. “This transfer means that the design of the Hobart class and its future developments will all be managed from Australia.”
Some of the SEA 4000 program’s architects – including Warren King – had worked on previous programs which suffered from combat system integration issues, such as on the Collins program, and they were determined that the combat system implementation for AWD would be well-managed.
The decision to include the USN’s Aegis Weapon system as the core of the AWD combat system leveraged the earlier USN investment, it was a proven and fielded system which would benefit from regular updates, and it provided deep interoperability. Despite specifying the SPY1-D(V) radar, the Aegis Combat Management System, the Mk41 VLS and the Mk99 missile directors, the complete combat system still needed to cover all of the intended Australian-specific requirements.
Ultimately the Combat System comprised 10 sub-systems. “Raytheon was accountable for the combat system architecture based on sound principles including consideration of certification, support and upgrade,” recalls Rod Equid. “The combat system program procured the additional elements through sub-projects, managed the FMS case with the Commonwealth, delivered data and equipment into the shipbuilding program, and designed and executed a program of integration demonstration and risk-reduction which ultimately assured a complete and functioning combat system was available for sea trials.”
An example of the unique features of the Hobart class’s combat system was the Integrated Sonar Suite (ISS) from ULTRA UK. ULTRA was deemed to have the best solution to detect a broad range of threats in varying operational environments, and it comprised a bow sonar and a linear array with active and passive elements.
“The two sonar sources have the potential to employ multi-statics,” explained Equid. “While the integration of the ISS was not without difficulty, a world class solution meeting specific RAN requirements was achieved and incorporated into the AWD combat system.”
CAPABILITY – AEGIS & SPY-1D(V)
If a ship’s crew is considered to be the heart of the vessel, then in the Hobart class’s case, Aegis can be considered the brain, and the SPY-1D radar, the eyes!
As described above, the decision to acquire Lockheed Martin’s Aegis combat system and AN/SPY-1D(V) radar which were common to the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke class DDGs was made well before the successful AWD hull design was chosen.
Aegis was the name given to the shield wielded by Zeus in Greek mythology. Appropriately dubbed ‘The shield of the fleet’, the Aegis weapon system was first developed in the 1980s by RCA as an advanced digital combat system that integrated the sensors and weapons systems of the US Navy’s then-new Ticonderoga class cruisers (CG).
“It all started in terms of capability around Aegis,” CDRE Tiffen recalls. “The government made a big decision and didn’t leave it to the vagaries of the commercial world to make the decision about the combat system and the weapons system. They chose the Aegis Combat and Weapons Systems, and that system combined with the MK-99 fire control directors, the SPY-1D phased array radar, and cooperative engagement capability (CEC) combined give the RAN the capability to detect, track and engage at very, very long, and share the information at very long distances.
Australia ordered three of the then-latest configuration Baseline 7.1 Refresh 2 version of Aegis and S-band SPY-1D(V) radar systems in October 2005, and these were delivered initially into storage until the construction program was ready for the installation of the systems’ hardware. The FMS deal through the US Navy included the usual associated engineering services and integrated logistic support.
Apart from the US Navy and RAN, Aegis and the SPY-1D radar is also in service with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) on four Kongo and two Maya class DDGs; with the Spanish Armada on its five F-100 class frigates; and the Republic of Korea Navy on three (plus three planned) Sejong the Great class DDGs. The SPY-1F frigate array radar system which is scaled for a smaller vessel is in service on four Fridtjof Nansen class frigates with the Royal Norwegian Navy.
That there have been nine ‘baseline’ versions of the Aegis system shows how the system has evolved, with each adding new levels of capability and complexity. The early baselines featured MilSpec computers, but Baseline 6 went to fully commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and featured significant new capabilities including theatre ballistic missile defence (BMD) and cooperative engagement capability (CEC), the ability to network US and allied vessels by sharing threat, targeting and engagement data.
Baseline 7 added the latest SPY-1D(V) radar, while Baseline 8 brought COTS and open architecture systems to older Aegis vessels, mainly the USN’s Ticonderoga class CGs. Baseline 9 is a very significant upgrade to which Australia has committed to remain in lockstep with the US Navy program, and it features a true open architecture computer framework which allows much easier integration of new capabilities.
Importantly, Baseline 9 will also add three major warfighting improvements including the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) which allows aircraft such as the F-35 and MH-60R Romeo helicopter to identify and provide targeting solutions for ship-launched missiles over the horizon and over land.
Baseline 9 will also enable the incorporation of an Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) capability which will provide a much more versatile capability for air defence, Aegis’ primary mission. Its centrepiece is the new multi-mission signal processor (MMSP) software package.
Something also under consideration for the RAN is an Enhanced Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) capability. Baseline 9 features launch-on-remote (LoR) and engage-on-remote (EoR), with tracking data for targeting incoming missiles provided by remote sensors which could be on other ships or aircraft, on land or in space, thus improving the ability to intercept longer-range and faster missiles.
Baseline 9 also features what the US Navy and Lockheed Martin calls a common-source library which permits easier, cheaper and faster integration of new capabilities.
The three Hobart class DDGs plus the nine planned Project SEA 5000 Hunter class frigates will give Australia the largest fleet of Aegis-equipped warships outside the US Navy, and will thus provide significant leverage into the future Aegis development process.
CAPABILITY – CEC
The adoption of Aegis and the linking of the RAN’s planned upgrade program with that of the US Navy also provided the option for Australia to integrate Raytheon’s Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) on the Hobart class, and to integrate it with other advanced sensor-equipped platforms.
CEC is designed to enhance the capability of a surface fleet by combining ship-borne radar and fire control data into a common picture, allowing one ship to engage an adversary based on another ship’s data. Initial tests of CEC on the Hobart class DDGs was successfully conducted aboard HMASs Hobart and Brisbane in the Gulf of St Vincent south-west of Adelaide in March and early April 2018.
Australia is only the second nation to integrate CEC after the US, and also plans to integrate it with other assets such as the RAAF’s E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C, the planned AIR 6500 Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) program, and the SEA 5000 Hunter class’s Aegis system to provide a long-range, cooperative and multi-layered air defence capability.
In his paper The Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) – Transforming Naval Anti-Air Warfare published in 2007, William D O’Neil says “…the key to CEC is the ability to move from track-telling to transmitting complete radar data, dwell by dwell.” A ‘dwell’ is described as a “single radar ‘look’ at a target, which may involve multiple pulses in rapid succession but at the same beam position”.
O’Neil said this has been enabled by advances in computer speed from the use of faster digital components in radar receivers, and by computerised digital communications which permit faster transmission speeds without the need of greater bandwidths or increased power. These advances have effectively seen the first distributed lethality utilised by naval platforms.
The concept of CEC goes back to the 1970s when the US Navy sought counters to the proliferation of advanced high-speed anti-ship missiles, and the limitations of a ship’s mast-mounted radar which gives a radar horizon in the low tens of miles.
The US Navy’s concept of operations at the time was to engage an attacking force as far away as possible from an aircraft carrier around which a task group was commonly structured, hence the development of the Grumman F-14/Hughes AWG-9/AIM-54 long-range interceptor combination, and the RIM-66 SM-2 in the 1960s and 70s, and the first generation of Aegis combat systems in the late 1970s and 80s.
Vessels currently communicate with other vessels and defending aircraft primarily via Link-11 and Link-16 datalinks to share track and early warning information. But these links come with a high level of latency which does not readily allow for reliable fire control solutions to be developed when sensor data is shared.
Where CEC differs is, it is not reliant on these systems and instead uses an organic network which shares raw data, not tracks. The system is sensor-ambivalent, so it builds a composite track from any number of airborne and surface sensors, thus giving the ship a much greater ‘horizon’ than that offered by the radar on its own mast.
Further, if one of those sensors is destroyed or disabled, it has a ‘self-healing’ ability to seek other sources of information from other sensors in order to retain its air picture, and thus retain an accurate fire control solution on any approaching threat.
Any vessel or aircraft that has a CEC capability becomes a node in the network. While ships were originally thought of only as CEC nodes, this can now be applied to land-based aircraft, especially those which have advanced digital sensors such as the E-7A. Possible future airborne nodes could also be carried by the P-8A Poseidon or even something like a KC-30A MRTT.
CAPABILITY – AVIATION UPGRADE
The AWD program was commenced when the RAN operated the S-70B-9 Seahawk, and before the newer MH-60R Romeo has been selected under Project AIR 9000 Phase 8. As a consequence, the RAN’s ships were designed with a hangar and associated aviation spaces similar to those of the Spanish Armada vessels which operate the SH-60B Seahawk.
But the more advanced avionics, sensors and weapons suites of the Romeo requires different spares, weapons bunkerage, and workshop spaces to effectively service the helicopters at sea, so it was decided to upgrade the hangars and aviation spaces of the three vessels to better accommodate the new helicopters.
The upgrade has seen HMAS Hobart and NUSHIP Sydney receive new flightdeck and hangar lighting, hangar space optimisation, and better weapons storage to accommodate the newer aircraft and its more advanced sensors, systems and weapons. Hobart’s three-month upgrade was performed in dry dock in Sydney in early 2019. The second ship of the class, HMAS Brisbane is scheduled to undergo its aviation spaces upgrade in 2020, while NUSHIP Sydney has received its upgrade during construction.
“We were ahead of schedule, around three months at the start of last year,” Paul Evans told ADBR. “So we proposed to the Commonwealth that we could introduce that capability (on NUSHIP Sydney) before the ship left Osborne, rather than needing to incorporate that once the ship was in service. And we’ve been able to do that through the productivity initiatives and enhancements that we’ve brought along with the program.
“So, Sydney for the first time will leave here with the full combat helicopter capability on board, that will enable the crew to immediately start training with that capability, put the ‘birdies’ on board, and get the helicopter working with the ship in a full workup sense.”
The upgrade culminated in HMAS Hobart for the first time embarking an RAN Romeo in July for first of class flight trials (FOCFT) in conjunction with the Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit (AMAFTU). The FOCFT not only evaluated the interaction between the vessel and helicopter in flight in various sea states and wind conditions, but also aircraft handling on the flightdeck and in the hangar, and the ability of maintenance and weapons handling personnel to work effectively in the confined spaces of the hangar.
“The trials have proven highly successful with day and night sorties flown to test and expand our operating limits,” Hobart’s Commanding Officer, CMDR Ryan Gaskin told Navy Daily. “The expanded operating limits will be a pivotal capability multiplier as Hobart prepares for her maiden task group deployment to North-East Asia later this year.”
The MH-60R is able to employ Mk54 torpedos, the APKWS guided rocket system, AGM-114 Hellfire laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, and a door-mounted heavy machine gun. By comparison, the older Seahawk was armed only with the machine gun and the lighter and shorter Mk46 torpedo.
Despite the early production and project management issues experienced by the program, there is no doubt it has delivered not only the most capable warships to ever enter service with the RAN, but also an enduring legacy of naval warship building that will be maintained well into the 2040s.
In a statement, Defence Minister Senator Linda Reynolds told ADBR that the DDGs are the most capable and lethal warships ever to be operated by the RAN. “It is essential our defence force has world-leading technology and the capability to protect our nation – one that can provide credible deterrence, scalable response options and can withstand counter coercion,” she said.
“The success of the AWD program is credited to the federal coalition government led reform and the dedication of 5,000 people and 2,700 suppliers Australia-wide,” she added. “Each and every person who has worked on the program has brought their unique skills to ensure its success – from welders and pipefitters to systems engineers, administrators, procurement officers and project managers.
“Furthermore, this workforce has created a legacy and foundation to establish the strong sovereign shipbuilding industry needed to support the national shipbuilding enterprise.”
But perhaps any commentary on the program’s legacy is best left to those who had the most skin in the game.
CDRE Tiffen says one of the most important legacies of the AWD program was the pool of experienced people it has left. “I think the challenge for AWD was the stop start nature of shipbuilding in Australia,” he said. “The Australian frigate (FFG) and the ANZAC projects overlapped by some margin, so there was no valley of death. But the ANZAC program and the AWD program never overlapped, and they were started in a different location so, there was no workforce to rely on.
“I think the best thing that resulted out of the AWD program is that experience is going to be exploited, and that the issues that we saw in (the program) shouldn’t be repeated,” he added. “Although there will be start-up issues as there are with every program, and of course SEA 5000 and SEA 1180 are very different programs in respect of some of the technical challenges that they will experience.”
Peter Croser says Defence and Industry have both learned about what the dependencies are of shipbuilding in Australia. “I don’t mean just shipbuilding,” he said. “I mean the design, the supply chain, the integration, the set to work, the trials. We are now a lot more mature than we were before AWD, and we’ve proven that we can do it.
“So, the lessons are, we greybeards who are around – Craig (Bourke), Steve (Tiffen) and I are three of them – have the scars and have the lessons that we bring to the table every day,” Croser added. “And what that’s doing is de-risking the next programs, which is why we are, I think, at the moment delivering against our schedules and our outcomes on the current programs as a result of those lessons.”
Paul Evans says the AWD program laid the foundation for continued shipbuilding. “This program has really set up the next 20 or 30 years in shipbuilding where we’ve developed a workforce from practically nothing,” he said. “We now have a very advanced shipyard, arguably the best in the world. We’ve got a trained workforce that understands procurement, planning, scheduling of the work, and in all the trades producing a very complex system which is a warship.
CDRE Bourke says if the program had not been successfully turned around, it may have meant the end of large warship building in Australia. “I doubt very much that the government would have been willing to say 12 months ago we’re putting out a national ship-building strategy and we’re going to be building ships in Australia,” he said.
“So, I look out there and I see probably four and a half million man hours of effort in that one (Sydney) compared to nearly nine million man hours of effort in the first one,” he added. “I see three and a half thousand suppliers, key suppliers, not their sub-contract suppliers, but key suppliers. I see about 70 per cent Australian involvement. They’re all legacies that go into the future programs.
“And the ships are amongst the most capable ships of their type in the world, certainly ships of that size. They’re hard to beat, a fabulous radar and well-proven technology. An excellent combat suite, fantastic communications suite, levels of integration that we haven’t had on previous platforms, and interoperability that we haven’t had with previous platforms, which brings a lot more to bear for the war-fighter.”
Rod Equid agrees that the program produced far more positive outcomes than negative ones. “Ultimately, the program should be seen as highly successful in comparison with international first-of-class ship programs that often suffer monumental overruns and delays with production runs shortened to compensate.
“The AWD program served to re-establish the industrial base and corporate knowledge required for this type of undertaking, and the products delivered are great,” Equid added. “The promises around performance were met. The combat system works as advertised and was delivered under the original budget for the scope. The ship meets all of its key performance characteristics and carries 600 tons of future growth margin.”
Michael Ward says the AWD program has delivered a formidable capability. “We now have all three ships, we’ve finished the cooperative engagement capability integration – and these are the only ships outside of the US Navy that have CEC – and of course, that coupled with Aegis weapon system just gives them a formidable capability.
“More than 5,000 people and 2,700 suppliers have worked on this program over the last 14 years, and they should be immensely proud as Australians,” he added. “That these ships have been designed, developed, built, and now will be supported by Australian industry. This program has offered us the opportunity as a nation to develop significant skills and capabilities, so what we’re really developing within Australia is a sovereign capability.”
Perhaps the last word is best left to the incoming commanding officer of NUSHIP Sydney, CMDR Ted Seymour, with whom ADBR spoke on the eve of the start of Sydney’s builder’s sea trials.
“I think the proudest moment for me is still in the future,” he said. “I have been on a journey with Aegis now since 2010, so being onboard Sydney for that final target being splashed by a missile in 2021 will be 11 years’ worth of effort. So that will be a pretty special moment.
“But having been involved in the program for so long, we’ve built a number of relationships with the different organisations that are involved in the Alliance, and those relationships have been extremely valuable in bringing this platform into service. While we’ve got a way to go yet, the experience that I had (as Executive Officer) in HMAS Hobart previously and working with the guys down in Adelaide and the shipbuilding industry down there, it’s been extremely positive.
“The platform that we have received has met all the expectations that we had for it,” he added. “The legacy of the shipbuilding industry that we have established has set the foundation for the future platforms that we need to produce.”
To view this Special Supplement as a digital magazine, please click here