BAE Systems has beaten its Spanish and Italian competitors in a bid to build a fleet of nine frigates for the Royal Australian Navy.
The Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the decision on Friday.
Once in Royal Australian Navy service, the frigates will be referred to as the Hunter-class. According to the navy, the class name was specifically chosen for the alternate interpretation of a ‘hunter’ personifying the role of the frigates as a submarine hunter, with the term embodying the pursuit of prey.
In a signal to all navy personnel, Royal Australian Navy Vice Admiral Barrett said class name was chosen to reflect the tradition of naming RAN ships that promote Navy’s bond with the Nation. In this case, the first three ships of the Hunter class will carry the names of three major Australian regions, all with strong historical maritime and naval ties.
The first batch of three will be named HMA Ship Flinders (II) (SA region named for explorer Captain Matthew Flinders – first circumnavigation of Australia and identified it as a continent); Hunter (NSW region named for Vice-Admiral John Hunter – first fleet Captain and 2nd Governor of NSW); and Tasman (state and sea named for explorer Abel Tasman – first known European explorer to reach Tasmania, New Zealand and Fiji).
BAE Systems was selected over its Spanish rival Navantia who proposed an upgraded F-100 frigate design and Italy’s Fincantieri who offered the FREMM frigate.
The project to build a total of nine Aegis-equipped frigates is worth an estimated A$35bn and will replace the existing fleet of Anzac-class frigates.
BAE Systems will soon commence negotiations with Australia’s defense department on the initial design part of the contract, which is expected to be in place by the year end, with production expected to commence in 2020.
The frigates will be built at the federal government-owned shipyard ASC in Osborne, South Australia. In June 2017, ASC Shipbuilding and Austal announced they were teaming up for the construction of the Future Frigates.
The winning design is the export version of the Type 26 frigate currently being built for the Royal Navy. BAE Systems refers to the design as Global Combat Ship – Australia, or GCS-A for short.
According to the company, this is the world’s first bow-to-stern digitally designed anti-submarine warfare (ASW) warship. “It offers technologically superior ASW capability with the flexibility to undertake the full range of maritime operations,” a BAE Systems brochure says.
The GCS design is 149,9 meters long, displaces 6,900 tons and carries a 24-cell Mk41 vertical launch system. The Australian frigates will be fitted with CEAFAR 2 phased array radar and the Lockheed Martin-built AEGIS combat system.
The integrated platform management system as well as controls and instrumentation (C&I) for the ships will be provided by L3.
As the Australian government explained in its announcement, ASC Shipbuilding, which is wholly owned by the Commonwealth, will become a subsidiary of BAE Systems during the build. This ensures BAE Systems’ responsibility for the delivery of the frigates.
The Commonwealth of Australia will retain a sovereign share in ASC Shipbuilding while BAE manages the program. At the end of the program the Commonwealth will resume complete ownership of ASC Shipbuilding, thereby ensuring the retention in Australia of intellectual property, a highly skilled workforce and the associated equipment.
“By the conclusion of the frigate build, ASC Shipbuilding will be a strategic national asset capable of independently designing, developing and leading the construction of complex, large naval warships,” the announcement read.
This agreement will not affect the offshore patrol vessels, air warfare destroyers, or the sustainment of the Collins-class submarines and will not preclude ASC Group from pursuing future shipbuilding opportunities.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the shipbuilding contract as the biggest UK naval defense contract for a decade.
“BAE Systems’ winning bid highlights the best of British shipbuilding design and our world-leading anti-submarine warfare technology,” UK defense minister Guto Bebb said. “Australian forces have stood should-to-shoulder with our military for generations and this deal will build on our strength as allies as our two great Navies operate this cutting-edge frigate around the globe.”
The Australian government’s decision was also welcomed by Saab whose 9LV tactical interface will be integrated with the US Aegis system and the Australian-designed-and-built CEA phased-array radar.
“The combination of BAE Systems first-class Type 26 frigate design and Saab’s tactical interface, based on the 9LV Combat Management System, will provide the Royal Australian Navy with a world-leading capability of which Australians can be truly proud,” said Andy Keough, managing director of Saab Australia.
“The company has taken on an additional 70 staff over the past six months, and the Future Frigate project will lead to another 200 jobs over the next two years and throughout the life of the project,” Keough added.
A video shared by the Royal Australian Navy provides a detailed overview of equipment and systems that will be fielded by the Hunt-class frigates.