Updated June 8th, 2024 at 06:54 IST

Royal Australian Navy Invites Foreign Shipbuilders to Modernize Frigates Under Project Sea 3000

On May 24, the Defence Department issued requests for information to these foreign shipbuilders, aiming to bridge capability gaps by 2030.

Reported by: Yuvraj Tyagi
Royal Australian Navy | Image:Royal Australian Navy
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Christchurch: Australia has initiated a significant step in its naval modernization efforts by reaching out to several foreign shipbuilders to procure general-purpose frigates under Project Sea 3000. This move comes as part of a broader strategy to replace the aging Anzac-class frigates with a more advanced and capable fleet. On May 24, the Defence Department sent requests for information to shipbuilders in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Spain.

A government review, titled "Enhanced Lethality Surface Combatant Fleet," released in February, recommended the acquisition of 11 general-purpose frigates to replace the existing eight Anzac-class frigates. To expedite this process, the review suggests that the first three frigates be constructed overseas, with subsequent ships built in Western Australia. This strategic move aims to bridge the gap in naval capabilities as quickly as possible. 

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International Contenders for the Project 

As per a report by Defence News, several potential candidates for the new frigates have been identified, including Germany's MEKO A-200, Japan's version 30FFM, South Korea's FFX (second and third batches), and Spain's Alfa 3000. Interestingly, the review treats the two batches of the FFX as a single platform type, though the reasons for this are unclear. The selected shipbuilders were given four weeks to respond to the initial request and an additional three weeks to detail how they would facilitate the construction of follow-on frigates in Australia.

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Selection of the final design is anticipated next year, with the commissioning of the first overseas-built ship expected by 2030. The subsequent ships, built in Australia, are intended to have an identical baseline design. However, no decision has been made regarding the design of the seventh through eleventh frigates. By 2026, the Royal Australian Navy's surface combatant fleet will consist of nine hulls, highlighting the urgency to mitigate the capability gap before the new frigates arrive. 

Adapting Existing Designs for Australian Requirements 

Rear Adm. Stephen Hughes, head of naval capabilities for Australia, discussed the acquisition process at the Combined Naval Event conference in the U.K. on May 23. He emphasized the use of existing designs to accelerate the introduction of the new frigates into the fleet. However, adopting frigates that are identical to those built for other nations, such as Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea, poses potential challenges. These designs include weapons, sensors, and systems selected by the original customers, which might be unfamiliar to the Royal Australian Navy. 

Notably, Saab’s 9LB combat management system, currently used across the Australian fleet, is not integrated into the existing designs of these foreign-built frigates. Additionally, the Australian-made CEA Technologies radars are also absent. Rear Adm. Hughes highlighted the importance of adapting to these standards: “Whatever we choose, whatever standard we go with, we’re going to adopt that. We’re going to have discipline around that capability. The risk is we don’t choose wisely and we don’t understand the designs.” 

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Published June 8th, 2024 at 06:54 IST