|Operators:||Royal Australian Navy|
|Preceded by:||Anzac class|
|In commission:||From 2027|
|Displacement:||8,800 t (8,700 long tons; 9,700 short tons) full load displacement|
|Length:||149.9 m (492 ft)|
|Beam:||20.5 m (67 ft)|
|Propulsion:||Combined diesel-electric or gas (CODLOG)|
|Range:||7,000 nautical miles (13,000 km; 8,100 mi) in electric motor drive|
|Complement:||180 personnel, with accommodation for 208|
|Sensors and |
|Electronic warfare |
|Nulka decoy launchers|
|Aircraft carried:||MH-60R ‘Romeo’ Seahawk|
The Hunter-class frigate is a future class of frigates for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) to replace the Anzac-class. Construction is expected to begin in 2020, with the first of nine vessels to enter service in the late 2020s. The Program is expected to cost AU$35 billion and a request for tender was released in March 2017 to three contenders: Navantia, Fincantieri, and BAE Systems as part of a competitive evaluation process.
The genesis of the Future Frigate Program came in 2009, when the Rudd Government’s Defence White Paper signalled Australia’s intent to "acquire a fleet of eight new Future Frigates, which will be larger than the Anzac-class vessels" with a focus on anti-submarine warfare. With an initial tender expected in 2019–20, in 2014 the Abbott Government announced that work had been brought forward, funding a preliminary design study focussed on integrating a CEAFAR Radar and Saab combat system on the hull of the Hobart-class destroyer.
Following a report by the RAND Corporation into options for Australia’s naval shipbuilding industry, the Government announced an $89 billion naval shipbuilding plan. This plan brought the schedule of the Future Frigate Program forward by three years and announced a "continuous onshore build program to commence in 2020" in South Australia. A competitive evaluation process was announced in April 2016, with Navantia, Fincantieri, and BAE Systems revealed as the contenders to design the ships.
The 2009 Defence White Paper outlined "ambitious plans for the Navy’s surface fleet." At its centre was the requirement for twelve Future Submarines and "eight new Future Frigates, which will be larger than the Anzac-class vessels" with a focus on anti-submarine warfare. The accompanying Defence Capability Plan stated that a Government decision would be expected "beyond 2019."
The 2013 Defence White Paper reaffirmed the Future Frigate program and suggested that the replacement of the Anzac-class vessels could be brought forward. In the early 2010s, there was significant concern over the ‘valley of death’ in Australian shipbuilding following the conclusion of the Hobart-class destroyer program. With concerns both over the cost and management of the Hobart-class program and a union campaign calling for job security at government-owned shipyard ASC, the Abbott Government committed over $78 million to preliminary studies to determine whether the Hobart-class hull could be utilised for the Future Frigate.
Against this backdrop, the Abbott Government commissioned a study by the RAND Corporation to determine options for the future of naval shipbuilding in Australia. The report found that:
- Australia could sustain a naval ship building industrial base by carefully managing a continuous ship building strategy in the longer–term, with a regular pace of delivering the new ships. But this would need to be premised on reform of the Australian naval ship building industry and significant improvement in productivity.
- Australian naval ship builders can sustain an 18–24 month pace of large ship construction starts if Defence carefully manages its acquisition program and keeps the Future Frigates operational for 25 to 30 years.
- The gap between the completion of the Air Warfare Destroyer project and the start of the Future Frigate cannot be overcome, but the impact could be lessened. The cost of building naval ships in Australia is 30–40 per cent greater than United States benchmarks, and even greater against some other naval ship building nations. Australia is currently one of the most expensive places to build naval vessels. This premium can be reduced by improved productivity.
In response to the RAND report, the Government announced a $89 billion shipbuilding program. This included bringing forward the Future Frigate program with a "continuous onshore build programme to commence in 2020." The budget for the program has been confirmed as "more than $35 billion" and the Government claims it will "directly create over 2,000 jobs." All nine vessels will be constructed in Adelaide, South Australia.
In April 2016 the government announced a competitive evaluation process between Navantia, Fincantieri and BAE Systems for the Future Frigate Program. Additionally, a tender for the combat system was also held between Saab and Lockheed Martin. In October 2017, the government announced that the Aegis combat system and a Saab tactical interface would be used for the class.
Navantia offered an evolution of its F-100 base design, which forms the basis for the Hobart-class destroyers currently being built in Adelaide for the RAN. In 2014, the Australian Government commissioned a study to use the Hobart-class hull which Navantia claims shows it could be adapted to meet the requirements of the Future Frigate program, including integration of the CEAFAR radar and Saab 9LV combat system. Based on this study, a Navantia-designed Future Frigate would have 75 per cent systems commonality with the Hobart-class destroyers. Systems on the Hobart class include a 48-cell Mk41 vertical launch system, five-inch Mark 45 naval gun, undersea warfare capabilities including a hull mounted sonar and active and passive towed variable depth sonar, as well as the capability to operate a MH-60R "Romeo" Seahawk.
The Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyer program has attracted criticism for cost and schedule over-runs: by 2015 the program was three years behind schedule and $800 million over budget. In late 2015, Navantia was selected to bring a shipbuilding management team into government-owned shipyard ASC as part of the AWD reform program. Following the reform program, ASC has stated that "when we reach our budget on ship three...we will be as good as the other Aegis yards in the world."
Fincantieri (Modified FREMM)
Fincantieri offered the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) variant of its FREMM frigate (Bergamini class). The Italian Navy will purchase four ASW FREMMs and six of the general purpose variants. The vessels are equipped with an Italian weapons and sensor suite, including a 76 mm OTO Melara gun fore and aft, a 16-cell vertical launch system (VLS) for missiles including the MBDA Aster 15 and 30.
Fincantieri says that the general hull configuration of the Bergamini design will require little or no modification to meet Australian requirements, including the incorporation of the CEAFAR radar, although it has confirmed that some redesign would be required if Australia requires the incorporation of the US Navy Mark 45 five inch naval gun. However, when discussing the FREMM, Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said that "the weaponry of course will be United States' weaponry. That will be integrated into the winning vessel."
In 2016, Pyne stated that "one of the advantages for this company is that this vessel has been built, it is already in operation. One of the disadvantages is that the company doesn't operate here."
BAE Systems (Type 26)
BAE Systems offered an export variant of its Type 26. First conceived in 1998, the UK's Future Surface Combatant program was originally intended to replace the Royal Navy's Type 22 and Type 23 frigate fleets. In 2010 BAE Systems were given a four-year contract to fully design a new class of warship, the Type 26 or 'Global Combat Ship.' The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced that the Royal Navy would procure 13 of the vessels, however repeated delays saw the program scaled back to eight vessels with five smaller Type 31 warships also ordered.
Construction of the ships in the UK was expected to start in 2016, but was delayed with critics saying it was "due to the Minister of Defence's attempts to save money." Work began in 2017 with the first vessel set to enter service in the early 2020s, after Australia’s build program commences. The Royal Navy’s eight vessels are expected to cost £8 billion (AUD $13.8 billion).
The Type 26 'Reference Ship Design' will be equipped with an advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, a 24-cell strike length Mk 41 VLS for long-range strike weapons such as the Tomahawk, a 48-cell vertical launch silo (VLS) for Sea Ceptor anti-air missiles, a 5-inch gun, and is capable of landing a Chinook helicopter on its flight deck.
In April 2018 BAE claimed it would be able to offer the best ASW performance of the three contenders, despite not having a ship of the class in the water at the time.
Design and construction
The Hunter-class frigate will be an Australian variation of the Type 26 class frigate that is to be operated by the Royal Navy from the mid-2020s. The class will have a 8,800-tonne (8,700-long-ton; 9,700-short-ton) full load displacement and will be approximately 150 metres (490 ft) in length. The vessel will be capable of sailing in excess of 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph) and will have a full complement of 180 crew.
A Saab tactical interface with the Aegis combat interface will be used. The vessel will be able to carry one MH-60R ASW helicopter, and has the ability to host other Australian aircraft such as the MRH90 helicopter.
At the same time as BAE Systems was announced as the winner, the names of the first three ships were announced as:
- HMAS Hunter (named for Vice Admiral John Hunter, the second governor of New South Wales)
- HMAS Flinders (for Captain Matthew Flinders, commander of HMS Investigator, the first ship to circumnavigate Australia)
- HMAS Tasman (for Abel Tasman, the first European to discover Tasmania and New Zealand).
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