Vires Acquirit Eundo – Strength by Going
By Max Blenkin & Andrew McLaughlin
This article appeared in the Nov-Dec 2019 issue of ADBR
The last of the Royal Australian Navy’s Oliver Hazard Perry/Adelaide class guided missile frigates, HMAS Melbourne was paid off at a ceremony at Sydney’s Garden Island Naval Base on October 26.
The ceremony was conducted after the vessel returned from her final cruise, a circumnavigation of Australia, on September 27.
As with the retirement of any vessel of distinguished service, this was an occasion of some sadness for her past and current crew. “It’s like having 200 deaths in your family, simultaneously,” Melbourne’s 18th and last commanding officer, CMDR Marcus Buttler said in a statement. “It’s an amazing experience, I’m really proud of these guys.
“There are thousands of people who have called this ship home over the past 27 years and most of our people don’t know a time in the Navy without HMAS Melbourne and the FFGs in the Fleet,” CMDR Buttler said. “I am so proud of the men and women of HMAS Melbourne for sustaining a high tempo at sea right to the end and contributing to her outstanding legacy.”
“It is also a sad day as we see the end of almost forty years of the Adelaide class frigate which has been one of the most effective maritime warfighting platforms ever built,”
In all, the RAN operated six of the Adelaide class FFGs, in their time Australia’s most capable warships and, with the distinctive sharply raked bow and low-set superstructure, the most recognisable.
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 were the first RAN ships to be powered by gas turbines.
The US-designed Oliver Hazard Perry-class 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.
Fifty one of the total 71 FFGs constructed served with the US Navy, and while the USN has now replaced them with the Freedom and Independence class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), some continue in service with the Navies of Taiwan, Spain, Greece, Poland and other nations
The Adelaide class was a derivation of the Perry class, of which. Four of the Australian vessels were built in the US at Todd Pacific Shipyard in Seattle with the first, HMAS Adelaide commissioned in 1980 and retired in 2008 to become a dive wreck.
The last two vessels, HMAS Newcastle which was decommissioned in July 2019, and HMAS Melbourne were built in Australia at the AMECON yard, now BAE Systems in Williamtown Victoria. HMAS Melbourne (FFG 05) was laid down in July 1985, launched in May 1989 and commissioned in February 1992. In her busy career, she has conducted multiple deployments to the Persian Gulf and Middle East region, as well as to Timor Leste.
Following the retirement of the RAN’s three Charles F Adams/Perth class guided missile destroyers in 2001, the FFGs served as the principal air warfare warship. Originally equipped with a single Mark 13 missile launcher able to fire the SM-2 missile, four of the six vessels underwent a major upgrade in the 2000s under the four-phased Project SEA 1390 FFG Upgrade Project (FFG-UP).
The upgrade provided a comprehensive upgrade to their weapons, sensors and combat systems. New weapons included newer RGM-84 Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles and the RIM-66 SM-2 Block IIIA medium-range anti-aircraft missiles employed, plus the challenging installation of the Mk 41 vertical launch system on the forecastle 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 other two vessels, HMA Ships Canberra and Adelaide were decommissioned in by 2008.
When Melbourne arrived in Sydney for the last time in September, RAN Fleet Commander, RADM Jonathan Mead, said the ship had given 27 years of distinguished service to Australia’s maritime operations. “HMAS Melbourne deployed on operations across the globe including to the Middle East eight times, earning battle honours for her service in East Timor and the Persian Gulf,” he said.
“The Adelaide Class guided missile frigates have formed the backbone of our Navy operations for decades, and Melbourne has played a vital role, sailing more than 900,000 nautical miles since her commissioning in 1992.”
CMDR Buttler said Melbourne recently completed a four month deployment through north Asia, including conducting international maritime surveillance operations to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution sanctions against North Korea.
“HMAS Melbourne has been deployed overseas for most of 2018 and 2019, showing what her Ship’s company of hardworking Navy personnel can do, and although today is bittersweet I am also very proud,” he said. “Thousands of people have called this ship home over the past 27 years with many fond memories of their time aboard and I have no doubt many of them will be sad to see her seagoing service come to a close today.”
The government has yet to announce the fate of Melbourne and sister ship Newcastle, both of which remain tied up at Garden Island in Sydney. There had been reports that both Poland and Greece were interested in acquiring the vessels, and most recently it was reported a Chilean delegation had visited Sydney to inspect both vessels recently.