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Delivering Australia's future frigates

The Hunter Class Frigate program is making significant progress and drawing on lessons learned from past naval shipbuilding projects to establish strong foundations for continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia, writes Craig Lockhart managing director of BAE Systems Maritime Australia.

The Hunter Class Frigate program is making significant progress and drawing on lessons learned from past naval shipbuilding projects to establish strong foundations for continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia, writes Craig Lockhart managing director of BAE Systems Maritime Australia.

Standing in the steel fabrication hall at the Osborne Naval Shipyard as the first prototyping unit moves, or ‘pulses’, from one station to the next, it’s clear the digital shipyard is coming to life, presenting a significant step forward for our company and for naval shipbuilding in Australia.  

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This week I will meet with the 1400 employees working on the Hunter Class Frigate Program including those at Osborne in Adelaide. This regular meeting, which we call an  “All Hands”, gives me the opportunity to discuss our progress to date – and the message I will share with each employee is encouraging. 

That’s not just because BAE Systems Maritime Australia is making significant progress on the future construction of nine Hunter Class frigates. It’s also because we are implementing lessons learned from past naval shipbuilding projects and, in doing so, establishing strong foundations for continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia. 

Australia has no option but to get it right the first time. By around 2035, half of the world’s submarines will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region, which means the Hunter’s anti-submarine warfare capability will be extremely important to protect Australia’s interests. Delivery into service with the Royal Australian Navy when it is needed is of utmost importance. 

That is why the Commonwealth government’s decision last week to shift cut steel for the first Hunter frigate by up to 18 months is important. The decision puts into practice the  lessons learned from first of class ship build programs around the world, which tells us that it is fundamental to mature the design as much as possible prior to commencing construction. It will also result in a greater build efficiency across the Hunter Program, reducing the risk of rework for each frigate and, therefore, enable schedule compression  in the following years that ensures greater certainty around our delivery milestones.  

Hunter’s design is evolving principally under two major activities. The first commenced earlier this year with the Systems Definition Review, an exhaustive year-long process  that establishes the functional baseline of the ship and assesses design maturity against capability and wholeship performance requirements, including the integration of the  Australian government mandated changes. 

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Lightship weight is a focus area for the SDR review. Contrary to some recent commentary, the Hunter Frigate is not overweight and remains within the design criteria to meet key wholeship performance characteristics such as stability, seakeeping, speed, range and  endurance. Lightship weight has increased in line with the Type 26 reference ship in the  UK and accounting for the Australian mandated changes around the Combat System but we have modified the Hunter’s hull form slightly to accommodate the weight and margins and meet Royal Australian Navy capability requirements. 

The second major activity is a process called Design Separation which is the transfer of  the Type 26 reference ship design, knowledge, tools and systems from BAE Systems  shipyards on the Clyde River in Glasgow to the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide. Essentially, a copy of the reference ship design will be taken zone by zone and the Hunter CAD model matures with the addition of each zone through a “refresh and merge” process hosted in Australia. 

Designing and building an ultra-modern and complex surface combatant is not without its challenges and risks. And that’s why these reviews are so important. It allows us to assess the risks and maturity of the design as part of systematic process to ensure that when we commence construction we are able to use an optimised and efficient build strategy. There’s not a ship build program in the world that has not learnt this lesson through their first of class – and this is our chance to get it right. 

The Hunter program is currently exceeding its agreed Australian Contract Expenditure percentage which is a minimum of 58 per cent over the life of the Hunter program. We are placing contracts with Australian businesses and testing and maturing supply chain solutions for the program’s manufacturing phase. 

Already, we have announced companies including NSW-based BlueScope Steel, WA-based Altrad, MG Engineering and Infrabuild in SA and Mackay Consolidated Industries in Victoria among the 40 contracts we have awarded to date. With the prototyping phase in full  swing, the focus has shifted to engaging Australian businesses for frigate construction. 

Dozens of Australian businesses have recently submitted expressions of interest for a range of equipment to be installed on the first batch of three frigates, including mission  bay side doors, door hatches and scuttles for the mast and around the ship, and catering and laundry equipment that will support the preparation and cooking of meals and  laundering facilities for personnel. 

Multimillion-dollar equipment contracts planned for award in coming months include  valves, compressors, diesel generators, gas turbine and enclosures, shaftline system, cold and cool rooms, blast doors and light fittings. We are supporting SMEs seeking to work  with OEMS including Baker & Provan and Cold Logic while also working with OEMs and potential Australian SMEs to explore building military-grade propellers, HVAC and other  systems in Australia, made by Australians. We have committed to progressively increase sovereign capability over the life of the program and we remain committed to do so. 

We continue to invest in research and technology, and are collaborating with academics, researchers and SMEs to develop, test and trial advanced manufacturing processes and  techniques that will lead to productivity, quality and safety outcomes at the Osborne shipyard. Our Innovation Challenge series is among initiatives where SMEs are working with us to establish a world-class shipyard that is at the leading edge of future digital capability.  

This will see the establishment of a digital shipyard in what represents a significant step change to shipbuilding programs of the past and will see connectivity run through the Hunter ship design, manufacturing utilising Industry 4.0 technologies, connectivity to our supply chain and customer, connected workers, a connected ship and a connected fleet. 

In many ways, the Hunter Program is about more than just ships; it is about building an enduring and uniquely Australian sovereign industrial capability that supports Australia’s continuous naval shipbuilding strategy for future generations. 

Craig Lockhart is Managing Director of BAE Systems Maritime Australia

Delivering Australia's future frigates
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