Planned Australian offshore combatant vessel
|Operators:||Royal Australian Navy|
|Displacement:||Up to 2,000 tonnes|
The Offshore Combatant Vessel (OCV) is a proposed multipurpose small warship class for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Initially proposed in the 2009 Defence White Paper and marked as procurement project SEA 1180, the 20 OCVs would replace 26 vessels across four separate ship classes: the Armidale-class patrol boats, the Huon-class minehunters, the Leeuwin-class survey vessels, and the Paluma-class survey motor launches. Although having a common design (which could be up to 2,000 tonnes in displacement), the ships would use a modular mission payload system to fulfil specific roles; primarily border patrol, mine warfare, and hydrographic survey. The 2013 Defence White Paper committed to the OCV project as a long-term goal, but opted in the short term for an accelerated procurement of an existing design to replace the Armidales, and life-extension refits for the other types.
Planning and design
First made public in Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, the 2009 Department of Defence white paper, the planned vessels stem from Government instructions for the RAN to rationalise patrol, mine warfare, and hydrographic survey assets into a single class of warship. Twenty vessels are proposed. The project has received the procurement designation SEA 1180.
Instead of being capable of performing all roles simultaneously, the ships will have a modular mission payload system like the Standard Flex system used by the Danish Navy, or the system used by the United States Navy's Littoral Combat Ships: mission-specific equipment will be fitted to containerised modules, which can be exchanged for different modules when the ship needs to change roles. The use of containerised modules means that equipment can be upgraded without taking the ships out of service for refit, and if necessary can be fitted to requisitioned civilian vessels. The cost in developing and implementing the modular system is predicted to be offset by the savings in the areas of maintenance (having to purchase and maintain stocks to repair four different designs), personnel (having to retrain sailors when they transfer to a new ship), and administration.
It is anticipated that the new ships may displace anywhere up to 2,000 tonnes, although defence magazine editor Kym Bergmann predicts that this 'worst case' would require 50,000 tons of steel or aluminium to be fabricated (compared to 36,000 tons for the Collins-class submarine replacement project), and unless multiple shipbuilders are involved, the 12- to 18-month construction time per vessel will see the last ship enter service during the 2040s.
Instead of building all 20 vessels to the same design, the idea of hull variants optimised for different roles is also being explored: the module system will allow a ship designed for one role to be rapidly reconfigured to serve in another role, with a small but acceptable loss in capability compared to a 'native' OCV. The OCVs could be designed to carry a helicopter or an unmanned aerial vehicle to improve each ship's surveillance range, but this avenue is dependent on further study and cost-benefit analysis.
Although the 2013 White Paper committed to the OCV as a long-term plan, it announced that an interim patrol boat class based on an existing design would be acquired as a short-term replacement for the Armidales, while the Palumas and Huons would undergo life-extension upgrades.
The Royal Navy has begun plans for a similar vessel under the Future Surface Combatant program, designated the Future Mine Countermeasures/Hydrographic/Patrol Vessel (FMHPV). At the start of 2010, it was announced that the governments of Australia and the United Kingdom were exploring the potential for idea-sharing and cooperation on the design of the OCV and FMHPV, as well as planned replacements for the Anzac-class, Type 22, and Type 23 frigates. Although the nations will share their analyses, a common design or shared construction program is unlikely, as the two nations have different needs and replacement schedules. The RAN is also observing the development of the United States Navy Littoral Combat Ships, in order to take advantage of lessons learned during the program.
While designing the Independence-class trimarans for the Littoral Combat Ship program, Australian-owned shipbuilder Austal also prepared a scaled-down version that could serve as the basis for the Australian OCV. The Austal Multi Role Vessel (MRV 80) would have an overall length of 80 metres (260 ft), a top speed of 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph), carry an NH-90 or similar helicopter, and have 500 square metres (5,400 sq ft) for mission equipment or cargo.
The OCV was originally planned to replace 26 vessels across four warship classes: the Armidale-class patrol boats, the Huon-class minehunters, the Leeuwin-class survey vessels, and the Paluma-class survey motor launches. The new ships will be used for offshore and littoral patrol and combat, border protection, anti-terrorism and anti-piracy operations, mine warfare, and hydrographic survey. It is plausible that the OCVs will operate in support of the Canberra-class landing helicopter dock ships; amphibious operations would benefit from the survey and mine warfare capabilities of the ships.
- Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, pp. 72–3
- Australian Offshore Combatant Vessels, p. 1
- Scott, UK, Australia begin talks on future ship projects
- Thornton, The Rationale for the RAN Offshore Combatant Vessel, pgs. 6, 8
- Boettger, The Offshore Combatant Vessel, p. 31
- Bergmann, Buzz around all-in-one combatant vessels
- Australian Offshore Combatant Vessels, p. 2
- Department of Defence (3 May 2013). Defence White Paper 2013. Commonwealth of Australia. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-9874958-0-8.
- "Multi Role Vessel MRV80" (PDF). Austal. 2010. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
- HII Targets RAN SEA1180 Project, in The Navy
- Thornton, The Rationale for the RAN Offshore Combatant Vessel, p. 6
- Bergmann, Kym (29 May 2010). "Buzz around all-in-one combatant vessels". The Australian. p. 10 in Defence supplement.
- Boettger, Daniel (December 2009). "The Offshore Combatant Vessel: Future Flexibility". Headmark (Australian Naval Institute) (134): 30–34. ISSN 1833-6531.
- Department of Defence (2 May 2009). Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030. Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 978-0-642-29702-0. OCLC 426475923.
- Scott, Richard (22 January 2010). "UK, Australia begin talks on future ship projects". Jane's Defence Weekly (Jane's Information Group).
- Thornton, Sean (January 2010). "The Rationale for the RAN Offshore Combatant Vessel". The Navy (Navy League of Australia) 72 (1): 6–10. ISSN 1322-6231.
- "Australian Offshore Combatant Vessels" (PDF). Semaphore (Sea Power Centre – Australia) 2010 (04). May 2010. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- "HII Targets RAN SEA1180 Project". The Navy (Navy League of Australia) 74 (2): 18. April 2012. ISSN 1322-6231.