With bids for the Future Frigates now closed, the Commonwealth and three contenders are now undergoing offer definition and improvement activities under the competitive evaluation process.
A final decision is expected in April.
Under what’s called ODIA, the bidders respond to queries on their proposals and, where appropriate, improve their offers.
Under SEA 5000, the winner will deliver nine Future Frigates configured for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), to be constructed in Techport in Adelaide.
The winning business will commence prototyping activities in 2020 and actual construction around 2023.
SEA 5000 is the big one, a project worth $35 billion over its life and is intended to form the basis of an ongoing national high-technology sector based around shipbuilding.
The three contenders are:
- Navantia of Spain with its F-5000, a design based on the Hobart Class air warfare destroyers (AWDs).
- Fincantieri of Italy with its FREMM, in service with the French and Italian navies.
- BAE Systems of the UK with its Type 26, of which the first is now under construction in Glasgow for the Royal Navy.
Each would appear to have advantages.
The Navantia design appears to be lowest risk as it has mostly already been constructed in Australia.
Although there were problems in the AWD project, they were overcome and construction of the final vessel approached world best practice for productivity.
With 13 vessels in service, FREMM is a mature capability. Fincantieri, the largest shipbuilder in Europe. Based on its long experience, it can readily get production up and running in Adelaide.
As a new design that draws on Royal Navy expertise in ASW, Type 26 is probably the best pure anti-submarine warfare vessel of the three. BAE says its all-digital design allows ready transfer of the technology to Australia.
The government has advised the three contenders that whoever wins will need to turn out a new ship at a drumbeat rate of one every two years.
The Commonwealth will provide the shipyard, an all-new facility under construction at Techport, SA, which the winner will be responsible for managing.
Ships will be constructed in three batches of, probably, three vessels. The Commonwealth has already mandated the combat system, the Saab 9LV as used in the Anzac frigates with Aegis fire control system.
Finally, the Commonwealth isn’t stipulating mandating use of any particular shipbuilding workforce, such as that of ASC Shipbuilding, which is now finalising work on the last AWD.
That prompted howls of outrage from South Australian politicians who demanded the government amend the tender documentation to mandate use of ASC and Austal.