In its review of the government’s $89 billion Naval Shipbuilding Plan, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) highlighted the integration of the Aegis Combat Management System (CMS) on Australia’s Future Frigates as posing a risk level of “medium/high”. Defence Connect spoke with Lockheed Martin Australia, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of Aegis, to take a deep dive on the complexity of the task and why the system is the best choice for Australia’s Future Frigates.
The Aegis CMS is an advanced system designed to deal with both air and surface and subsurface threats, and can include a ballistic missile defence capability, although the Australian government has not acquired it with this capability (yet).
"Government made the call to have an Aegis Combat Management System that maintains an option for government to include a BMD [ballistic missile defence] capability," Defence told the ANAO.
While Australia's Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers have the Aegis Weapon System, the Future Frigates Aegis CMS will include a tactical interface designed by Saab Australia, adding to the complexity of the task.
"The selection of the Aegis combat system for the Future Frigate allows Defence to draw upon its experience with the Hobart Class Destroyer, which also operates the Aegis combat system. The potential addition of the Aegis ballistic missile defence capability into this system ... would be a new capability for the designers and shipbuilders to incorporate, while working to meet a compressed schedule," the ANAO said.
While Lockheed Martin agrees with the ANAO's assessment that combat system integration is a complex business, director of business development for Lockheed Martin Neale Prescott said it's business as usual for the well-practised combat systems integrator, which has been integrating Aegis into naval ships around the world for more than 40 years.
"I think the key things are Aegis is deployed around the world. It's deployed on a number of navies," Prescott explained. "The United State Navy obviously, and Norway, Spain, South Korea, Japan and Australia. That covers about 107 ships and nine different classes of ship.
"The key thing there is yes, it's a complex system, and yes, the integration is a complex activity, but we've had enormous experience with not only the design, but also the integration of it.
"In the context of SEA 5000, we see this as an orthodox activity."
Prescott said the commonality between the Air Warfare Destroyers and the Future Frigates will be important for the Australian Navy as they look to operate the vessels as a task group, but also important for Australian industry, including Saab Australia and CEA Technologies, which has been selected to fit its CEAFAR radar on the Future Frigates. Saab Australia, CEA Technologies and Lockheed Martin have been working together for over three years on the Future Frigates, while Saab Australia and Lockheed martin are working on the Future Submarines' combat systems integration, and have collaborated for over 12 years on surface combat system programs in Canada.
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"What we have is commonality between the combat management systems of the Air Warfare Destroyers and the SEA 5000 frigates," Prescott said. "That's important because these ships are now going to operate as a task group, and they are going to not only protect themselves but they are going to have to protect ships within the task group like the LHD, and some of the other minor warfare ships.
"The benefit of Aegis is that it's designed to have a growth path. The CMS in the Future Frigates is Baseline 9. The importance of that is that will enable the support costs associated with the two to be managed between them. It introduces a lot of capability, in particular a thing called common sourced library. I think the key thing there is that's an enabler for SEA 5000.
"The inclusion of CEA and Saab in an integration sense, and a software development sense, Baseline 9 has been designed specifically to deal with the inclusion of products from a range of vendors. Then key amongst this also, our team's done a lot of work looking at the Australian industrial piece, and now the percentage of Australian content is over 90 per cent. Quite an extraordinary effort I think, that we were very proud of that. We've got a team that's already supporting the DDGs. That same team is growing now to support the frigates."
Rob Milligan, program manager surface maritime Australia for Lockheed Martin, also dismissed the concerns of fitting Aegis to a frigate, explaining the integration activities remain the same whether the vessel is classed as a destroyer or a frigate.
"The Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen Class frigate, fitted with Aegis, is five and a half thousand tonnes, the Australian Navy's DDG originates from the same root, it's about six tonnes," explained Milligan.
"It really doesn’t adjust the margins. All of the integration activities undertaken by Lockheed Martin, as the US Navy's Combat System Engineering Agent (CSEA) for Aegis, are the same activities that have been undertaken for integration of Aegis into ships no matter what the navy; Australian, Japan, Korean, Norway and Spain. It's the same series of activities."
Milligan also made the case for the successful Future Frigates designer – whether that be BAE Systems, Fincantieri or Navantia – to have Lockheed Martin lead the charge on the integration of the CMS.
"Traditionally Australian shipbuilding, if you look at all the programs – Anzac frigates, the Adelaide class Frigates, the LHDs – by having the shipbuilder and the OEMs of the products responsible for integration in the build, which is essentially what's highlighted in the ANAO report, it's ensuring a well integrated designer, builder and supplier team, that absolutely maximises your chance of success in a shipbuilding program in Australia," Milligan said.
"We have spent a lot of money training our people, almost a million dollarsm training Australians, we have Australians in the United States being trained on Aegis.
"For the last few years we've been sending people over. We are building a team of trained engineers and integrators who absolutely stand ready to support the endeavour that is the Future Frigate Program."