The RAN’s quest to overhaul its maritime operational support capability, SEA 1654, was originally conceived in four phases, which would replace the existing fleet oiler and underway replenishment vessels.

21st Jul 2011


The RAN’s quest to overhaul its maritime operational support capability, SEA 1654, was originally conceived in four phases, which would replace the existing fleet oiler and underway replenishment vessels.

In the event, one of the phases was deemed unnecessary and the third and final phase, to replace the underway replenishment vessel HMAS Success is now beginning to gain traction.

Plans to replace the fleet oiler HMAS Westralia by 2009 and underway replenishment ship HMAS Success by 2015 were first announced in the Defence White Paper of 2000. Noting the requirement for their replacement was to enable surface combatants to remain at sea for longer periods and at greater distances from port, it expressed the desire that both ships would be built in Australia.

Circumstances surrounding the planned retirement of HMAS Westralia would change dramatically, requiring it to be paid off earlier than planned and thereby forcing the purchase of an existing commercial vessel in 2004 and a re-jig of the earlier phases of SEA 1654. The replacement of HMAS Success however, under SEA 1654 Phase 3, is on track to see a modern design built in Australia sometime in the early part of the next decade.

PHASES 1, 2A & 2B

SEA 1654 Phase 1 was a project definition study, completed last decade, which initially determined that an interim fleet oiler would replace HMAS Westralia under Phase 2A and this would in time be replaced by the definitive design under Phase 2B.

Accordingly, Phase 2A called for a commercial second-hand, double-hull Auxiliary Oiler (AO) to be acquired and modified in Australia for purpose around 2006/2007. Phase 2B would then replace the second-hand vessel when it reached the end of its useful life in the 2018/2020 period with a locally-built ship which would ‘comply with impending international conventions and regulations governing maritime hull design’.

New maritime pollution rules and regulations (MARPOL) introduced in the early part of the last decade however dictated that HMAS Westralia would have to be decommissioned three years earlier than planned, at the end of 2006.

During May/June 2004 the 37,000 tonne (deadweight) commercial tanker M.V. Delos was purchased for $52 million in new condition from the Greek shipping line Tsakos Shipping and Trading Company. Launched in April 2004 from the Hyundai Mipo Dockyard Company in South Korea, Delos was built as a standard panamax-sized double-hulled tanker ideal for the purpose.

After being leased to a commercial operator in Singapore for a period, Delos was brought to Australia and converted to her Auxiliary Oiler configuration by Tenix Defence Systems at the common user facility at Henderson, Western Australia, under a contract signed in March 2005.

Delos was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy as HMAS Sirius and entered service in September 2006. With a more permanent vessel now in service than was originally envisaged by Phase 2A, Phase 2B was then deemed unnecessary and subsequently cancelled. Therefore Phase 3 is the one remaining aspect of SEA 1654.


According to the latest Defence Capability Plan, SEA 1654 Phase 3 seeks to replace HMAS Success with a “modern double-hulled replenishment ship that is fully IMO (International Maritime Organisation) compliant”.

The timetable, as it presently stands, calls for market solicitation to begin early in the project, followed by First Pass Approval in the 2013/14 to 2014/15 timeframe. A Year of Decision is set to occur between 2016 and 2018 with an Initial Operational Capability (when the complete materiel system is accepted into Navy service) to follow sometime between 2021 and 2023.

According to the DCP, “Final Operational Capability will occur when the full scope of the project, including the mission, support and training systems and facilities, if required, have been delivered and accepted into operational service”. At this point in time, no Life of Type for the new vessel has been identified.

SEA 1654 Phase 3 is valued at between $500 million and $1 billion and, aside from the desire to construct the vessel in a local shipyard, there are major opportunities for Australian Industry Participation.

In the meantime, in order to meet IMO standards for the carriage of Petrol, Oil & Lubricants (POL), HMAS Success has recently undergone a lengthy period of dockyard work to fit a double hull. This will enable the vessel to meet international standards through to her eventual retirement in a little over a decade from now.


Commissioned into the Navy on 23rd April 1986, the 18,000 tonne HMAS Success is the current underway replenishment ship in the fleet.

HMAS Success is based upon the French multi purpose replenishment ship (OR) of the ‘Durance’ class and was built at the Cockatoo Dockyard on Sydney Harbour, the largest vessel ever to be built in the port of Sydney.

The vessel is capable of undertaking day and night Replenishment At Sea (RAS) activities from four main stations and can also undertake concurrent Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP) using her embarked Sea King Helicopter. Two of the RAS stations have dual functions, capable of transferring fuel or dry cargo. The Sea King will be retired in December, to be replaced by the MRH 90 Multi-Role Helicopter currently entering service.

Since being commissioned, Success has seen operational service in the first Gulf War where, together with a guided missile frigate, she represented Australia’s contribution to the coalition effort to free Kuwait, and more recently in support of INTERFET operations in East Timor in 1999.

With a replacement under Phase 3 till some years off, the Government released a Request For Tender towards the end of 2009 to modify Success with a double hull. Singapore Marine in Sembawang was the winner of the bid and, after a false start; work began in December last year. Following modification, Success departed Singapore in May and has since returned to her home port of Garden Island in Sydney.

The project came in under budget at $22.6 million (from a planned $26.38 million), of which only $12.2 million was the production contract, the remainder being for project management and insurance costs. At the time of writing, Success is undergoing a further ten-week maintenance period in Sydney to reform routine maintenance work including an overhaul of her RAS rigs. This will add a further $11 million to the bill.


Several countries are currently in the market for an underway replenishment vessel and an idea of the options available to the RAN can be gauged from these.

Canada in particular has a requirement for what it terms a Joint Support Ship (JSS). Envisaged to be a hybrid vessel around a Landing Platform Dock (LPD) type, it has since been refined to an AOR ship.

The two contenders, shortlisted late last year are Spain’s Navantia with their Buque De Aprovisionamiento En Combate (BAC – Combat Supply Ship) ‘Cantabria’ design, and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine with the Berlin Class fleet auxiliary vessel.

The German design is slightly the larger of the two, displacing 20,240 tonnes to the Cantabria’s 19,500, though both are larger than the 18,000 ton Success (which will have internal volume somewhat reduced due to the dual skinning). Cantabria entered operational service with the Spanish Navy last year.

Both manufacturers are well known to both the RAN and local shipbuilders: Navantia are the designers of the AF100 ‘Hobart’ Class Air Warfare Destroyer and ‘Canberra’ Class LHD currently under construction. ThyssenKrupp, through their Blohm +Voss ship manufacturing entity are the designers of the MEKO 200 frigate, which form the basis of the RAN’s ANZAC frigates.

Besides Canada, Norway and Brazil are reportedly interested in the Cantabria design, which is a development of the earlier Patiño vessel but with a double hull to meet modern MARPOL compliance standards.

Besides Cantabria, France’s DCNS (Direction Technique des Constructions Navales) is offering a design based upon its adaptable Batiment Ravitailleur D’Escadre (BRAVE) underway replenishment tanker and support vessel, which was unveiled at the Euronaval 2010 show in Paris last October.

Designed as a replacement for the French Navy’s Marne-Class the BRAVE ships, at a reported 30,000 tonnes displacement, are much larger than the Spanish and German offerings.

Also linked to Brazil has been Italy’s Fincantieri with an improved version of its 13,400 tonne Etna Class of ship delivered to the Italian Navy in 1998..

It is therefore evident that a range of ships are available for consideration by the Phase 3 Project Office, but a major question over the coming years is where the successful design will be built.

Given that the original wish was to construct both it and the Fleet Oiler in Australia, timing will be critical. The latest delays to the Air Warfare Destroyer programme have underscored how hard-pressed local shipyards are at the present time. Work on the Air Warfare Destroyers and the two LHDs is set to continue well in to the decade, leaving little room for another major project on the slipway before then.

The current timing of SEA 1654 Phase 3 requires construction work to begin around the 2017 timeframe, so there is not a lot of room to manoeuvre.

APDR at a glance