SEA 5000: building Australia’s future frigates

With the contract for Australia’s new Project SEA 5000 warships awarded to BAE Systems, Elliot Gardner takes a closer look at the company’s proposal to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s eight Anzac-class frigates. 

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In 2015 the Australian Government announced that a plan to replace the country’s ageing Anzac-class frigates - ‘Project SEA 5000’ also known as the Future Frigate Program - will kick into gear in 2019-2020, five years earlier than initially expected. 

This was more than just a naval replacement programme; the government wanted re-ignite the Australian shipbuilding industry, meaning as part of the forthcoming competitive evaluation process, companies hoping to win the SEA 5000 contract would need to demonstrate not only an enduring naval warship design, but also local and national industrial support.

Above all, the government specified that new vessels needed to be designed and equipped with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities in response to the languishing ASW proficiency of Australian vessels, and heightened submarine activity in the region.

By April 2016 three contenders had been announced for the Future Frigate project: Navantia with its F5000 design, Fincantieri with a modified variety of its FREMM multipurpose frigate, and BAE Systems with its Type 26 Global Combat Ship. On 29 June, the Australian Government announced that it had selected BAE’s proposal for a contract worth around A$35bn for the design, construction and support of the ships.

BAE is currently building the Type 26 frigate, one of the world’s most advanced anti-submarine warships, in Glasgow for the UK's Royal Navy. The version put forward for the Australian Navy, the Global Combat Ship – Australia, is based off the current Type 26 design but will be known as the Hunter class and will be built in South Australia using an Australian workforce and Australian suppliers.

BAE Systems chief executive Charles Woodburn said: “BAE Systems’ selection as preferred tenderer for SEA 5000 reinforces our position as a leading designer and builder of complex maritime platforms. I am proud that our world class anti-submarine warfare design and our approach to transferring technology and skills to the nations in which we work is expected to contribute to the development of an enduring world-class naval shipbuilding industry in Australia.”

When in contest, BAE claimed the Type 26 will offer the best ASW performance of the three contending pitches but was presumed to suffer from the fact that no completed model of the ship is available to demonstrate the fact.

The Type 26 is the newest of the designs on offer among the three companies; however the actual design process has reportedly been ongoing for years. BAE has the advantage that its vessel has been designed from the outset for ASW, but still has anti-aircraft, and ballistic missile defence capabilities. Considering that Australia’s Future Frigates will patrol the oceans for years to come, the advanced nature of BAE’s designs likely swung favour.

“The initial design phase is expected to begin by the end of the year, with production starting in 2020.”

BAE Systems Australia chief executive Gabby Costigan said: “Construction of the Global Combat Ship – Australia is expected to make a significant contribution to the nation’s economy, creating thousands of jobs, supporting new industries and boosting the national supply chain for decades to come. We are committed to creating a strong, sustainable and innovative naval shipbuilding industry that will see highly skilled Australians building and sustaining warships for the Royal Australian Navy.

“We are proud to have been selected as preferred tenderer to provide the Royal Australian Navy with a world-class ship, equipped with the latest technologies and designed specifically to meet its needs. The Global Combat Ship - Australia will help protect our shipping lanes and regional trade routes, serve humanitarian missions and provide the nation with a formidable naval capability.”

The Type 26 was first designed in 1998 for the UK Royal Navy, to replace Type 22 and Type 23 frigates. The UK Government announced the purchase of several vessels in 2010, but due to delays construction only began in 2017.

Going forward, BAE will commence negotiations with the Australian Department of Defence on initial design. The initial design phase is expected to begin by the end of the year, with production starting in 2020. 

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