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Top 5 for 2018: Defence Connect’s best SEA 5000 stories

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The $35 billion SEA 5000 program has picked up pace this year, with announcements of the successful tender and ground breaking of the digital shipyards that will deliver the nine Hunter Class future frigates. In this Top 5, we will cover the most popular SEA 5000 stories of the year.

The recent arrival of Australia's first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the turning of the sod for Australia's future submarine and future frigate shipyards in South Australia, the announcement of BAE's Type 26 Global Combat Ship as the successful SEA 5000 bidder, mounting concerns about the delivery time frame, cost and capability of Naval Group's SEA 1000 bid, and finally growing regional tensions and arms races are all powerful examples of the topics Defence Connect has covered throughout 2018.

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BAE Systems Australia and ASC Shipbuilding will deliver nine Hunter Class anti-submarine warfare, guided missile frigates as part of the $35 billion SEA 5000 program. 

Based on the BAE Systems Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the Hunter Class will replace the Royal Australian Navy's eight Anzac Class frigates when they enter service from the late 2020s. 

1.  SEA 5000 winner revealed 

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that BAE Systems Australia, in partnership with Lockheed Martin Australia, Saab Australia and ASC Shipbuilding, would be responsible for delivering the next-generation of Australia's naval surface fleet. 

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In one of Defence’s most hotly-contested competitions in years, BAE Systems with its Type 26, Navantia with an evolved Hobart Class/F-100 and Fincantieri with its FREMM frigate, were all considered for the next-generation of Australia's surface fleet.

The new Hunter Class will mark a major increase in the future capability of the RAN and will combine the powerful Aegis combat system, the Australian designed CEAFAR 2 phased array radar and a suite of advanced anti-submarine sensors, allowing the ships to conduct a variety of missions, with sufficient range, endurance and world-leading combat capability throughout the projected life of the vessels.

2. Here comes the Hunter

The new ships – called the Hunter Class – will be built in Australia using Australian steel, and signal a dramatic shift in both combat and industrial capability.

BAE Systems’ Type 26 Global Combat Ship has been locked in competition against Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, with its evolved Hobart Class/F-100, and Italy’s Fincantieri, with its FREMM frigate, to secure the hotly-contested SEA 5000 Future Frigates program.

The Type 26 is currently in production for the UK's Royal Navy, with the program running five years ahead of the Australian SEA 5000 Future Frigates project.

The next-generation frigates will provide the Australian Defence Force with "the highest levels of lethality and deterrence our major surface combatants need in periods of global uncertainty", Turnbull said at the time.

The Type 26 is touted as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW)-centric vessel and a sound addition to Australia’s naval capabilities. The Hunter Class will have the capability to conduct a variety of missions independently, or as part of a task group, with sufficient range and endurance to operate effectively throughout the region, according to Turnbull.

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.

The Hunter Class will begin entering service in the late 2020s replacing the eight Anzac Class frigates, which have been in service since 1996.

3. Future Frigate contract announced

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne recently announced the Advanced Work Arrangement (AWA). The AWA will cover ongoing work on the $35 billion program, ahead of agreeing to the head contract.

Minister Pyne said the AWA is an important first step in the process of transitioning ASC Shipbuilding into BAE Systems in preparation for the nation’s biggest shipbuilding program.

"The AWA is an interim contract which enables BAE Systems to continue to mobilise its workforce and progress the critical work required to ensure the project remains on track to start production in 2020," he said.

The AWA allowed BAE Systems to continue to mobilise the program, including maturing design and engineering plans, establishing a skilled workforce and setting up the required infrastructure necessary to commence prototyping in 2020.

4. Four major discriminators for the Future Frigate decision  

A report by Andrew Davies, Michael Shoebridge and James Mugg of ASPI examined the strengths and weaknesses of each vessel in the competition, and identified the four major factors that decided the winning vessel and ultimately the future of Australia's naval warship building industry. 

The report argued the Navantia vessel is "almost certainly" the least risky of the three contenders from a project risk perspective, given Navantia would be able to start work relatively quickly as the Air Warfare Destroyer project winds down, a vessel designed by the Spanish company.

The report also suggested the design would offer commonality with the Royal Australian Navy's existing fleet, but said its downside is that the design has not been produced with ASW as its main mission.

The report said the bid from Italian company Fincantieri would be looked upon favourably for its hangar capacity, ASW design and its Australian industry plan, and there is the added benefit that it is already a proven vessel since it is already in service with European navies.

But there is a project risk in working with a new designer that has yet to play a role in the Australian shipbuilding industry, the report found.

ASPI believed the bid from the UK's BAE Systems was considered to be the most modern design, with multiple ASW features on offer. The bid also offered an opportunity for Australian industry to enter a broad global supply chain, given variants of the vessel are on offer to Canada, and are currently being produced in the UK. 

Australian businesses are already supplying components for Batch 1 of the UK Type 26 program, and more are expected to support construction and equipment manufacture for Batch 2.

5. SEA 5000 combat system partners announced

Defence Connect recently confirmed that BAE Systems Australia had selected Lockheed Martin Australia and Saab Australia to partner with the company to deliver combat system integration on the Royal Australian Navy's new Hunter Class frigates. 

The decision further supports the development of an Australian combat systems industry that will underpin the Australian government’s continuous Naval Shipbuilding Plan.

BAE Systems Australia Hunter Class frigate program managing director Nigel Stewart said, "The Hunter Class combat system is a vital piece of the frigate’s infrastructure, which will give the men and women who operate these ships the capability to protect the nation against airborne, surface and under-sea threats."

The Hunter Class combat system is the eyes and ears of the warship, able to detect and identify aircraft, submarines and ships at great distance to offer the frigate’s command team maximum situational awareness and the capability to defend itself against or engage with an enemy.

Minister Pyne welcomed the announcement, saying the $35 billion frigate program would provide the Navy the highest levels of lethality and deterrence that our major surface combatants need in periods of global uncertainty. 

"I would like to congratulate Lockheed Martin Australia and Saab Australia for being named the preferred tenderers to partner with BAE Systems Australia to deliver the combat system integration on the Hunter Class frigates," Minister Pyne said. 

Top 5 for 2018: Defence Connect’s best SEA 5000 stories
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