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Babcock pitches frigate solution to expand Navy firepower, fleet

Babcock has responded to the growing speculation about the future Tier 2 combatants identified in the Defence Strategic Review, drawing on the experience and expertise that helped the company secure the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigate contract with the Arrowhead 140 option.

Babcock has responded to the growing speculation about the future Tier 2 combatants identified in the Defence Strategic Review, drawing on the experience and expertise that helped the company secure the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigate contract with the Arrowhead 140 option.

Amid growing speculation around the future of the Royal Australian Navy’s multi-billion-dollar Hunter Class frigate program, as a result from the findings of the Albanese government’s Defence Strategic Review (DSR) and the currently underway Surface Fleet Review, a number of prospective industry partners have started circling to address the changing requirements of the Navy’s future surface fleet.

A key pillar for delivering this is the Royal Australian Navy and its surface and submarine fleets, respectively. In recognising this, the DSR identifies the need to establish: “An enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet, that complements a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet, is now essential given our changed strategic circumstances ... Australia’s Navy must be optimised for operating Australia’s immediate region and for the security of our sea lines of communication and maritime trade.”

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While both Navantia and Lürssen have been highly active with their respective proposals to help support the expansion of the Navy’s surface fleet, with proposals to meet the Tier 1 and Tier 2 requirements identified in the DSR, Babcock has been silently sharpening its pitch to deliver Navy a fleet of general-purpose frigates to fill the Tier 2 role.

The review establishes the need for: “An enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet, that complements a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet, is now essential given our changed strategic circumstances.”

Explaining further, the government and the review believes such a force structure should incorporate “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” surface combatants to provide for “increased strike, air defence, presence operations, and anti-submarine warfare”, the review unpacks this, stating: “Enhancing Navy’s capability in long-range strike (maritime and land), air defence, and anti-submarine warfare requires the acquisition of a contemporary optimal mix of Tier 1 and Tier 2 surface combatants, consistent with a strategy of a larger number of small surface vessels.”

Leveraging the experience and expertise developed through the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigate program, which will see a similar expansion to the Royal Navy’s surface combatant fleet to what is expected with the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet, Babcock is presenting the Arrowhead general purpose frigate.

In a statement, Babcock Australasia chief executive officer Andrew Cridland said, “Babcock’s Arrowhead, a Type 31 frigate derivative, is a capable, adaptable, and multi-mission modern warship that is operationally proficient in both blue water and littoral areas. We consider the Arrowhead would deliver significant capability to the Royal Australian Navy and meet naval requirements both now and into the future.”

Highlighting the low-risk option and industrial opportunity presented by the Arrowhead proposal, Cridland explained, “The Arrowhead is based on a proven, mature design, and provides a flexible, long range and modular capability that can undertake a range of non-combat and combat missions including strike, delivering value for money to the customer.

To be delivered as a truly sovereign solution, an Australian Arrowhead would be built in-country, providing a significant boost for jobs, industry, and the economy and playing a key role in Australia’s continuous shipbuilding agenda. And they can be built quickly; leveraging the Babcock group capability already developed with all five Royal Navy Type 31 frigates being built by Babcock at Rosyth, Scotland,” Cridland added.

Unpacking the industrial potential associated with the Babcock proposal further, namely the emphasis on building a sovereign Australian workforce and an “Arrowyard” adding further weight to Australia’s sovereign and sustainable naval shipbuilding workforce and industry, Cridland explained, Babcock’s innovative Arrowyard concept can support a sovereign build and is a comprehensive and bespoke program of technology transfer and focused support options. Forged from Babcock’s rich engineering know-how and ship build experience, Arrowyard helps customers to optimise their own shipyard capability.

Arrowyard can be deployed anywhere in the world and delivers technically proficient naval build infrastructure, an industry 4.0 ready workforce, world-class frigates, and an enduring support capability backed by Babcock’s significant warship sustainment experience,” Cridland added.

In the Royal Navy’s case, the Type 31 Class of general purpose frigates, based on the Babcock Arrowhead 140, will provide the Royal Navy with a class of highly capable warship that sits in between the River Class OPVs and the City and Daring Class vessels, expanding the range and capability of the Royal Navy, without taxing the limited number of large, high-end surface combatants.

Capable of operating with a core crew of only 100 people, Babcock’s Arrowhead frigate would allow the Royal Australian Navy to deploy more capability with a significantly smaller crew.

The Royal Navy plans on acquiring five vessels for itself, with an additional two for Indonesia and three for Poland, respectively, providing these smaller navies with comparatively high-end warfighting capabilities in a relatively compact package — these vessels weigh in at 5,700 tonnes, with a range of 9,000 nautical miles at 16 knots, and the pre-fitted capacity for up to 32 strike-length MK-41 VLS cells, a 57mm main gun and a core complement of 100, compared to the 177 of the existing Anzac Class frigates or 180 for the Hobart Class destroyers and Hunter Class frigates.

Additionally, the platform has wide growth margins for future mine countermeasures, undersea surveillance and manned/unmanned teaming options leveraging four large multi-mission bays for the launch and recovery of autonomous systems — this additional flexibility, combined with the increase in capability provided by additional modularity built into the design.

From a cost perspective, the UK has signed a fixed price contract with Babcock for the Type 31 frigates for £1.25 billion, or roughly AU$440 million per frigate before certain weapons systems and other equipment. The total project cost is currently budgeted for £2 billion, allowing for £750 million in government-fitted equipment, resulting in a full unit price of £400 million, or roughly AU$700 million per frigate.

The modular nature of the design provides a comparatively quick building time when compared to the vessels like the Hobart Class, with the UK cutting first steel on the first of the Inspiration Class in 2021 and all five of the Royal Navy’s frigates contracted to be fielded by 2028.

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