ANZAC Frigate upgrade

n the light of Australia’s continuing problems in the naval shipbuilding sector, it is interesting to see what New Zealand is doing with far more modest means when it comes to upgrading their ANZAC Frigates. Australia and New Zealand ordered the German designed MEKO class frigates at the same time twenty years ago. This came about as a rare consequence of both navies running a combined project office and both Governments remaining committed to a project that promised significant savings through scale – a single order for 10 ships rather than separate contracts for eight and two. Both countries received significant industrial benefits as a result.

6th Jun 2011


 ANZAC Frigate upgrade

 Kym Bergmann / Canberra


In the light of Australia’s continuing problems in the naval shipbuilding sector, it is interesting to see what New Zealand is doing with far more modest means when it comes to upgrading their ANZAC Frigates. Australia and New Zealand ordered the German designed MEKO class frigates at the same time twenty years ago. This came about as a rare consequence of both navies running a combined project office and both Governments remaining committed to a project that promised significant savings through scale – a single order for 10 ships rather than separate contracts for eight and two. Both countries received significant industrial benefits as a result.

New Zealand made no secret that they felt they had the better part of the deal, with the defence Minister of the time remarking that “they made the Australian Government squeal” when it came to negotiations over price. Since then, the Royal New Zealand Navy has slowly moved away from the common baseline with Australia, most recently through a platform systems upgrade which is now at a half way point. For a relatively modest outlay of NZ$60 million in 2007, the frigates have had their main diesel engines replaced with new versions that are not only more powerful than those originally installed but also easier to support. This has been no simple undertaking, with changes also required to the associated gearboxes, couplings and control systems.

Amazingly – by Australian standards – the New Zealanders have undertaken this impressive engineering feat with a programme management team of two people.

The Australian ANZAC frigate system programme office in Freemantle employs 106 people, plus some contractors. The difference between the approaches of the countries is stark. New Zealand has contracted four companies to manage the work: Noske Kaiser (NZ); Siemens (NZ); Australian Marine Technologies (AMT) and Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems Australia. All four companies have been involved in the project even before the acquisition contract was signed in 1989. Australia has opted for a far more heavily bureaucrat approach to supporting the ships, characterised by high costs and slow decision making.

The role of AMT is particularly instructive. AMT was established by Blohm+Voss (Australia) – for whom the author once worked – as the “in country” design authority to support the ANZACs. The creation of AMT involved Australian marine engineers and naval architects spending time in Hamburg at the parent yard and then with all the requisite skills in place, relocate initially to Canberra and then ultimately Melbourne. AMT – now privately owned - maintains the closest possible connection in Germany with Thyssesn Krupp Marine Systems, who own Blohm+Voss.

Despite providing ongoing support to the New Zealand Navy and despite working hand in glove with the ship’s parent designer, Australia has gone down a different path, choosing instead to use BAE Systems as the design authority. This has come about because in the 1990s the prime contractor Tenix decided to set up its own design bureau – in effect in competition to AMT – because the commercial opportunity was apparently too good to miss. BAE Systems acquired Tenix in 2007 and with it the activity supporting the Royal Australian Navy’s ANZACS. So even though BAE Systems itself has never designed or built an ANZAC – indeed it is a bitter commercial rival of TKMS – it continues to undertake work for the RAN, while AMT supports New Zealand from their Willaimstown shipyard office.

BAE Systems are now having extremely well publicized difficulties with work on the Air Warfare Destroyer modules and the company in turn has tried shifting some of the blame to Spanish designer Navantia. It is accepted that there have been some issues with the quality and timeliness of some design drawings, but it seems odd that the other module builders Forgacs and ASC have been able to cope, while BAE Systems has not. Mind you, it is still early days with Forgacs still many months away from delivering a finished product.

While the ANZAC frigate project has been remarkably successful so far, the ships will require further upgrades and improvements especially if – as seems increasingly likely – the Anti Ship Missile Defence programme is applied to all eight ships. The ships will also receive a new communications suite and will need some changes to operate whichever naval helicopter is acquired through AIR 9000 Phase 8. With all of this in mind, Defence might wish to look at their own project management arrangements and to pay attention to how the New Zealand navy has so successfully carried out their upgrades.
 

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