Air Warfare Destroyer : Ship construction underway - the sparks start to fly
8th Jan 2010
The year 2010 will see a huge amount of activity on the Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) project – the ‘Hobart Class’ - starting in January with the cutting of steel for many of the hull modules by ASC and BAE Systems. The tempo will increase further in March when Forgacs begin work on their modules and by the end of the year full rate production on 29 steel blocks should be underway. The project budget for 2010 is around $1 billion, of which more than 40% will be spent in Australia – with the AWD Alliance aiming for an overall local spend of more than 50%.
As explained to APDR by Andrew Cawley, AWD Program Manager, the previous 12 months have seen the completion of a number of essential ship design tasks by Spain’s Navantia. Of equal - or possibly greater – importance, work on the Aegis SPY1-D(V) combat system is also well underway. He explained:
“The combat system is an Australian version of the US Navy’s Aegis combat system. Some people say – as a form of shorthand – that we have bought the Spanish F-100. This is not quite accurate: Aegis is the core of the AWD combat system which includes a number of Australian-selected subsystems. This combat system architecture was approved by Government in 2005 – then we subsequently selected the F-100 as the platform.”
Navantia has now delivered the functional design specification for the ships in the form of a 1,000 page document, which provides a high level overview outlining what now needs to be done for construction. This is being followed by technical data packages and build information, all based on the company’s extensive experience of constructing the F-100 series of 4 + 1 ships for the Spanish navy. However, there are some physical differences between the Spanish parent yard and ASC – all of which needs to be taken in to account when developing a build methodology and local shipyard work orders.
The total number of design drawings will eventually be vast, possibly numbering in the hundreds of thousands if every small item is counted and Navantia are well on the way to reaching this target. The project office estimates that by January 2010 the company will have delivered about 50% of initial construction drawings. All of the design drawings are reviewed and if necessary returned for correction or clarification – a vast iterative process which is essential for construction of a warship of the size and complexity of the ‘Hobart’ Class. The number of corrections required so far is described as very small and within the normal range.
In parallel the construction companies – ASC, BAE Systems and Forgacs – have started to test their own systems and procedures in preparation for the task ahead. The process is something of a rehearsal for full rate production and involves a number of paper studies about how to tackle the forthcoming task, as well as trial runs which are based on taking a design document to workers and checking that they can clearly understand what they need to be doing during actual construction. There have also been a number of “red team” reviews involving not only Navantia but also U.S. experts from Bath Iron Works checking that Australian companies are making adequate preparations – and so far it appears that they are.
To further reduce construction risk companies are also undertaking 3 types of prototyping work tasks – a fabrication pilot built; a steel manufacture pilot build; and also a pipework pilot. All of these processes have been reviewed and have either been found to be correct or will soon be judged to be so. Full rate production for BAE Systems is beginning now and they have 12 blocks to manufacture for each of the ships. Similarly ASC is about to start work on their 9 blocks, with Forgacs not too far behind.
The blocks should take between 12 and 18 months to complete and so those coming from interstate will start to arrive at ASC’s Osbourne site in South Australia during 2011 and into 2012. This construction technique also involves some manufacture in parallel, with parts of ships 2 & 3 well underway even before the lead ship is launched. The most likely way the pieces will reach Adelaide is by sea transport, since many of them weigh hundreds of tonnes – though this is subject to an open ASC tender at the moment and the Program Manager said that is someone comes up with an innovative solution that will also be considered.
Andrew Crawley also explained the vital role of Navantia in the process and said they have already sent several of their top people to Australia, with even more to come. This will have the obvious benefit of involving senior Spanish production engineers in the entire build process so that any problems that arise can be dealt with on the spot. It should be remembered that the company is one of Europe’s oldest and most experienced naval shipbuilders and has recently completed a build of 4 similar – but smaller – Aegis equipped ships for Norway, as well as 5 for Spain.
The steel for the ships has been produced by Bluescope Steel in Wollongong to a certified marine standard – stamped by Lloyds of London – and is one of several positive examples of contracts that have already been placed in Australia. Bluescope won the order as the result of an open international competition. There are a few specialized steel components that will have to be imported only because they are not manufactured here, but the vast bulk of the ship’s structure will be sourced locally.
Part of the logic behind the final assembly of a ship made up of large blocks is that these can be outfitted with equipment, piping, cabling and so on prior to the these sections being welded together to form a finished ‘Hobart’ Class destroyer. In theory this allows for significant cost savings because less time and labor are used. Andrew Cawley explains:
“World’s best practice is to use 80% of your labor hours outfitting each block before they are welded together to form a complete ship. We will be measuring what we do with the aim of reaching that objective. This is the secret to good shipbuilding and we will be maximizing the amount of outfitting and testing we do at this relatively early stage in the process.”
As the blocks arrive in Adelaide they will be moved to the hard stand near the synchro-lift where the final assembly will take place. The facilities at the shipyard will make it possible for all of the important systems to be fully tested and aligned even before the warship has gone anywhere near the water (with the exception of turning on the powerful SPY1-D phased array radar). It is planned that this process for the first ship will be completed in 2013 and that the vessel will then experience a dignified ‘float-off’ as the lift descends slowly into the Torrens River – still with all the traditional fanfare and ceremony but without the drama of a conventional launch. It is planned that manufacturer’s sea trials will last approximately 12 months – leading to an on schedule delivery to Navy in December 2014.
Arguably the programme risk is now more in the area of the combat system, rather than in hull and machinery performance – most of which is well understood and defined. The combat system for Australia – which is made up of well-known elements, each of which individually is not especially risky – has nevertheless never existed in quite this configuration before. Nevertheless, the “heart” in the form of Aegis has now reached a mature stage and has been formally disconnected from its US test bed. Defence Procurement Minister Greg Combet issued a statement on 6 December reading in part:
“I am pleased to announce that the US Navy has conducted a ‘pull the plug’ ceremony on the combat system for HMAS Hobart,” Mr Combet said.
“This ceremony marks the ‘de-energising’ of the combat system and symbolises its readiness for installation in the first AWD. To reach this point the system, including the radar and missile fire control equipment, had to complete a full range of US Navy acceptance tests to verify its performance.
“The completion of testing of the Aegis Combat System equipment destined for HMAS Hobart marks a major milestone in the delivery of this world-class capability from the US Navy to the Royal Australian Navy.
“The Aegis Combat System is deployed on nearly 100 warships around the world. In addition to the US and Australian Navies, Aegis is deployed on Japanese, Spanish, Norwegian and South Korean warships.”
Project Director Cawley says that he has also witnessed this radar – currently located in Moorestown, New Jersey – transmitting and tracking targets.
The overall architecture of the combat system is in many ways similar to other Aegis users such as Japan, South Korea, Spain and Norway. All these navies take their core combat management systems from the parent USN configuration, so they all use almost identical “fire control loops” which are highly critical to effective performance. The Defence organisation in designing their configuration decided not to break any of these loops or do anything which would require system recertification – an expensive and time consuming process. In a boost to confidence the combat system passed through its Critical Design Review in the second week of December.
However, there are some important physical differences between a ‘Hobart Class’ and the parent USN’s Aegis-equipped Arleigh Burke DDG 51s – most notably but not limited to a smaller number of vertical missile cells (48 rather than 64). Also our antenna faces are located at slightly different locations and angles, which also has consequences for performance. Finally, we have selected some sub-systems that are unique to Australian requirements. These include:
Sonar. The UK firm Ultra will provide both a hull mounted sonar and a towed array. The Spanish F-100 does not have a towed array and has a different hull mounted sonar, so in this regard the Australian configuration is quite different. The technology behind this will be transferred to Australia, which will be a vital element in providing through-life support and the ability to modify the product, if necessary. The Ultra solution is not without risk and is being closely monitored. However the advantages of sharing common sonar technology with the Royal Navy and also the USN justify this approach, especially as all major elements of the towed array solution have been developed.
Electronic Warfare. The AWD Alliance is in the process of selecting the EW system and the choice is between: Thales; ITT; Elisra and Indra. Depending on the final choice this might also give the RAN a sub-system not yet fully integrated onto an Aegis-equipped ship. A decision is expected in the near future.
Communications and information systems. The architecture for this is complex and the AWD Alliance made an early decision that they would not go to a single supplier but instead are looking at 9 different “product groups”. These go from a contract for the communications network infrastructure – the ability to move data around – down to individual elements such as radios. There are numerous requirements in this field alone – UHF, VHF, HF and Satcom, and as well as carry out secure military communications, internal and external, a modern system must also be able to provide entertainment services for the ship’s crew. This latter function is an essential ingredient to be able to attract and retain skilled people in the future who will be required to be away from home for lengthy periods.
The AWD Alliance is going through the process of selecting the various elements of this communications system. It was believed that no single vendor would be able to meet all of the requirements with a turn-key solution. So the Alliance has decided instead that the best way to meet RAN’s network-centric warfare needs and a multitude of other roles is to select individual suppliers or “product groups” to come up with the best available solutions. These are expected to be in place early in 2010.
Very short-range defence. This is the Rafael 25mm Typhoon, designed to provide close-in protection from threats such as small boats and will provide the last line of defence against sea-skimming missiles. This is a new product that has not yet seen service on an Aegis-equipped ship.
Thus far the AWD Alliance has succeeded in meeting its milestones and 2010 will be a crucial year with the start of full rate production. There are many challenges ahead – technical as well as managerial – and because the program is of such importance it will continue to receive intense scrutiny, both in Australia and internationally.