Production of the first of three Air Warfare Destroyers for the RAN is now well underway and, officially, it is on track for delivery as scheduled in December 2014. But a recent setback in the construction of hull blocks at BAE Systems’ Williamstown shipyard, and the vast amount of systems integration still to be carried out underline the remaining risks.
Under Project SEA 4000, the Air Warfare Destroyers are to be delivered in December 2014 (HMAS Hobart), March 2016 (HMAS Brisbane) and June 2017 (HMAS Sydney). The design is a modified Navantia F104 class vessel, which has Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Combat System as their core.
Final assembly and fit-out of the ships is taking place at the Australian Submarine Corporation’s facility at Osborne in Adelaide, but construction of hull blocks is also taking place at BAE’s shipyard at Williamstown in Victoria and the Forgacs facility near Newcastle in the Hunter Valley.
AIR WARFARE DESTROYER ALLIANCE
Overseeing the $8 billion project is the a defence/industry team known as the Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance, the core of which comprises the Defence Materiel Organisation, the Australian Submarine Corporation as the shipbuilder and Raytheon Australia as the Combat Systems Engineer. A wider team also includes the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Defence Science & Technology Organisation, Spanish designer Navantia, Bath Iron Works, Lockheed Martin, the US Navy, BAE Systems Australia and Forgacs.
The Alliance was formed to improve co-operation and communication between Government and industry. It uses an incentive agreement, known as the Alliance Based Target Incentive Agreement, to permit decisions to be made by industry partners whilst allowing the Commonwealth the final say in order to ensure correct focus.
The AF100, or ‘Hobart’ class vessel, is a modified Navantia F 104 design, currently in service with the Spanish Navy and itself a modification of the earlier F100 class ship. The AF100 is known to Navantia as the F105.
Using the F104 as the baseline, several key changes have been made to the AWD to meet SEA 4000 requirements, including a displacement increased from 5800 to 7000 tonnes; a new hangar to accommodate several different helicopter types; improved air wake, via a redesigned funnel top; increased range due to increased fuel (bunker) volume; bow thrusters; a more powerful diesel engine and improved cold weather operations
The principal air warfare sensor is Lockheed Martin’s AN/SPY-1D(v) phased array radar, coupled with its Aegis Weapons System Baseline 7.1. Other improvements include a Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC); UPX-29 IFF upgrade; Horizon Search Radar for enhanced defence against anti-ship weapons; Surface-to-Surface Missile system upgrades (improved littoral target selectivity); Very Short Range Defence system improvements; Enhanced EW System; X/Ka Band SATCOM, INMARSAT Fleet Broadband and INMARSAT C capability and integration of an active missile decoy system in the form of BAE System’s Nulka.
Principal air defence weapons will be the SM-2 Surface-to-Air Missile, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) and RGM-84 Harpoon. The Eurotorp MU90 advanced lightweight torpedo is the primary anti-submarine weapon and the vessels will have a BAE Systems USA 5 inch (62 Calibre) Mk.45 Mod.4 gun and Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS).
The AWD will have a 48 Cell Vertical Launch System, a hull Mounted Sonar and Towed Variable Depth Sonar for detection and defence against enemy submarines and torpedoes.
An Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) system, in the form of Sagem’s Vampir NG will provide automatic 360° tracking of aircraft and missiles.
The vessels will be 146.7 metres long, have a beam measuring 18.6 metres and a draft of 7.2 metres and, as noted, Full Load Displacement will be 7000 tonnes. Maximum speed is ‘in excess of 28 knots’ and they will have a range of more than 5000 miles at 18 knots. Nominal complement is set at 180 personnel but the design allows for up to 234 to be accommodated if required.
The AWD Alliance says the project is progressing well and is on-track, despite the challenges. It points out that the ships are by a long measure the most advanced surface warships that have ever been built in this country.
There are 31 individual ‘blocks’ that make up each ship and these are fabricated in South Australia by the ASC, in Victoria by BAE Systems Australia and in New South Wales by Forgacs. The Alliance says that although it is still in the start-up phase at the present time, construction is ramping up to peak production.
Most recently, Toll Holdings was awarded a contract for the transport of these blocks to the South Australian Government’s Common User Facility in Adelaide for consolidation into complete warships.
Production of the various Combat System elements is well advanced, system integration is on track and contracts have been signed for almost all major material and equipment. The Alliance says it is also on-track to meet its budget target of over 50% Australian Industry Content and has completed major project reviews and achieved key milestones.
One of the major challenges is the recruitment of skilled workers to keep pace with the rapid expansion of shipbuilding work across the three sites. There is currently a shortage of welders, logistics engineers, data analysts, marine engineers and naval architects. As a result a nation-wide recruitment drive is currently underway to fill these key roles.
Seventy percent of the modular blocks are being built by BAE Systems and Forgacs with the remainder constructed by ASC in Adelaide. Full hull block production began in the three facilities in January 2010, with BAE Systems responsible for the complex-shape keel blocks, Forgacs the square-shaped superstructure modules and ASC the Combat Systems blocks, decking and superstructure. In addition, Taylor Brothers are manufacturing accommodation modules in Hobart.
Once all the blocks arrive in Adelaide, they will be consolidated into a complete warship by ASC, which will then carry out integration, commissioning and trials ahead of delivery to the Commonwealth.
At the time of writing, the three yards are well advanced in the construction of seven blocks each, though manufacture of some of the keel blocks at BAE Systems in Williamstown has been delayed by an issue that has resulted in repairs to one block part-way through construction. Two others that were earlier on in their production process have also required extra work, through a refining of production processes.
The Alliance says that a distortion was found in the damaged block, caused by shrinkage after welded components had cooled. It says the problem has been resolved by the rework of the sub-block in question and cannot be attributed to a single cause. It identifies production start up issues experienced by BAE Systems, deficiencies in ‘specific know-how’ and technical data contributed to the problem. However it is confident that the start-up issues have been resolved and distortion can be controlled by managing the amount of heat applied during welding.
Whether this setback will affect the schedule is still too early to tell, according to an Alliance spokesperson, “The current AWD Alliance operational schedule has the first ship being delivered early compared with the contracted delivery date so there is built-in float in the schedule”.
Work is underway to improve the block fabrication schedule and recover the float, which the Alliance says may result in a reshuffle of work allocation between the three facilities. Other proposals include increasing the level of fit-out at each yard, boosting the workforces and working extra shifts, as well as perhaps consolidating individual hull blocks into so-called ‘grand blocks’. In any case, it says the volume of work allocated to each company will not be reduced.
“Other actions that have been taken include increasing the number of experienced people in the shipyards, including shipbuilding experts and project managers from BAE Systems United Kingdom shipyards, ASC, Navantia, Bath Iron Works USA (ASC’s capability partner) and Lloyds Register” it says, “The team has also improved Build Planning Workshops and other processes to develop more detailed production data packages. The AWD Alliance will continue to review the schedule and support the production activity with experienced personnel including representatives from Navantia”.
Key to the capability of the Air Warfare Destroyers is the interface between the core Aegis Combat System and the rest of the weapons and sensors, including the sophisticated communications and Electronic Warfare sub-systems.
Kongsberg are on contract to develop an Australian Tactical Interface (ATI) system which will tie all these systems together and allow the RAN to modify various subsystems without having to go back to the Original Equipment Manufacturer in each case. This is a crucial and incredibly complex part of the project and comes with significant risk.
The ATI will provide simplified integration between the Aegis Combat Management System and the other sensors and weapons and increase mission flexibility by facilitating changes in configuration of the ships’ command centre to allow other missions and roles to be accommodated. It will support future technologies such as those identified in the Australian Electronic Warfare technology roadmap.
Although there are risks associated with the ATI, Kongsberg has developed a similar system for the Norwegian Navy, whose F310 frigate (Fridtjof Nansen) class is also a Navantia design and also Aegis-equipped. The AWD Alliance says the ATI has recently undergone successful testing in the United States.
The first Aegis weapons system hardware was formally integrated and accepted by the US Navy on schedule and under budget in December 2009, and the second shipset followed in September last year (the purchase of Aegis is an FMS case, so the US Navy is the contracting agent). Both sets have been packaged and stored in the United States and the first will be delivered to Australia, as required, over the next 18 months.
“The early production of the Aegis Weapons System was to take advantage of the established production line in the United States” AWD Alliance CEO Rod Equid told APDR, “The early delivery schedule of the Aegis Weapons System, including the SPY-1D(v) radar, allows for the treatment of any delivery risks, such as the potential for damage during transit.”
Navigation System equipment, including the meteorological interface unit, ships’ speed log, navigation repeaters, anemometers marine air pressure sensors and temperature & relative humidity sensors has now been delivered to ASC, where it is warehoused until required.
One of the major requirements of the Air Warfare Destroyers as weapons systems is the ability to communicate effectively and securely with other national and coalition assets. The layers of communications on AWD are as complex as they are varied.
Known as the Communications and Information subsystem of the Combat System , there are terrestrial radios; a range of SATCOM options; computer networks with servers, storage and access peripherals which are distributed widely throughout the ship; audio visual; telephony; and communications management. There are also the Link 11 and Link 16 datalinks but no provision for a Tactical Datalink such as the US Navy’s HawkLink broadband system to interface with helicopters.
These have now all been contracted, with the exception of the ships’ internal communications system. Known as the Ships’ Telephony System, this is the last major Combat System item that has yet to be procured. The Alliance says timing is not yet critical, as the majority of the equipment can be installed late in the consolidation process or, in some cases, afterwards. The Alliance says this last major contract is scheduled to be awarded in March.
Rohde and Schwarz (Australia) was selected by Raytheon Australia, integrators of the Communications System, in October 2010 to supply HF, VHF and UHF radio equipment to the programme. These units will be Rohde & Schwartz’s M3SR Series 4100 & 4400 software defined radios and associated filters/combiners and antennas.
The company says the contract, valued at approximately AU$ 30 million, is the largest system integration project it has so far undertaken within Australia. System integration will be carried out at its Sydney facility and the equipment, installed in racks, will be delivered to ASC for fitment.
Thales Australia is the preferred supplier of SATCOM equipment, with a final contract due to be awarded in late 2010.
Raytheon Australia is undertaking the integration of the Communications and Information (CIS) subsystem, as the AWD Combat Systems Engineer.
The programme has adopted what it calls a ‘white box’ strategy for CIS procurement, which allows it and the Commonwealth to reach agreement on the most up to date product within the budget envelope without affecting the delivery schedule of the ship.
“The schedule for contracting CIS procurements is planned to occur at a time that allows the latest requirements from the Commonwealth while ensuring equipment delivery dates are ahead of when they are needed for the ship build” says Rod Equid, “All CIS procurements are on or ahead of schedule, except for the Ships’ Telephony System, which is scheduled for March 2011. One of the key capabilities of the Hobart class Combat System is its CIS subsystem, which provides support for Network Centric Warfare and interoperability with coalition partners”
The Electronic Warfare system for the AWD will be supplied by ITT-EDO Reconnaissance and Surveillance Systems of the United States, which has teamed with local companies Ultra Electronics Avalon Systems in Adelaide and Jenkins Engineering Defence Systems in Sydney for system development.
The AWD Alliance says this solution was chosen because “it was judged to provide the best capability and value for money, balancing technical and commercial compliance, cost, schedule and risk.” The contract is worth about $30 million.
“Electronic Warfare is a critical element of any Combat System, providing a capability edge by providing earlier detection and identification of hostile threats” Equid said, “For this reason it is important that the Electronic Warfare capability remains an indigenous capability and the AWD Alliance has made this a priority industry capability in Australia”.
The equipment supplied by ITT-EDO consists of the ES-3701 Radar-Electronic Surveillance system and Southwest Research Institute MBS-567A Communications-Electronic Surveillance system. Equid says these sub-systems are variants of equipment that is already in service on the Collins submarines and the Nansen Frigates in Norway.
Avalon Systems will modify its Multi-Purpose Digital Receiver, which was jointly developed in Australia by DSTO and industry and integrate it with the ITT-EDO system.
Jenkins Engineering Defence Systems is contracted to provide its Radar Electronic Surveillance low band receiver for integration into the ships’ EW system.
Electronic Warfare integration is another area where significant risk remains and numerous Defence programmes which have stumbled at this hurdle. APDR asked Rod Equid how the Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance was working to mitigate this risk on SEA 4000: “Integration of the Electronic Warfare system occurs at two levels – integration with the platform design and integration with the other combat system equipment” he replied, “Prior to selecting the ITT Electronic Warfare solution, platform integration impact studies were undertaken in concert with Navantia to confirm the platform integration design. As a result of this work it has been confirmed that no significant platform design changes are required to accommodate the ITT solution.”
Equid also says that the key to this integration activity will be the Australian Tactical Interface, which will also facilitate the necessary upgrades ad developments as Electronic Warfare rapidly evolves. “Integration with other combat system equipment will require integration with the Aegis Weapon System, which will be achieved through the ATI” he says “This activity will be achieved in concert with the US Navy and will build upon the proven Aegis SLQ-32 interface to minimise the design and integration risk”.
Raytheon’s SLQ-32(V) is the principal EW system on major US Navy surface combatants and, as such, is designed to work with a number of systems, including Aegis.
The recently-released Auditor General’s report into major defence projects notes that procurement of an Electronic Warfare Radar Electronic Attack capability has been deferred as current technology does not meet Navy’s requirements. It says however: “The budget has been preserved to support second generation technology being fielded in the AWD. It is expected that the capability will be available in the 2017-18 timeframe”.
One of the major elements of the Air Warfare Destroyers combat effectiveness will be its embarked helicopter. To this end, whichever solution to the Commonwealth’s Project AIR 9000 Phase 8 requirement for a future naval combat helicopter is chosen, it will be a crucial part of the entire package.
Although the AWD changes to the baseline F104 design specifically accommodates the possibility of different helicopters being embarked, rumours have abounded in recent times that not all competing helicopters could fit into the hangar with enough clearance for routine maintenance.
Navantia told APDR at the last Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) in December 2009 that the design could be changed by moving a bulkhead within the superstructure, but the Commonwealth had not then requested any such alteration.
Questions to DMO failed to clarify this at the time, with a ‘Defence Spokesperson’ saying, “Ship interface for both potential helicopter contenders for AIR 9000 Phase 8 is currently being considered by Defence. This includes operating the aircraft from the ship as well as the hangar considerations. The ability of both aircraft to fit into the hangars and to conduct maintenance on the aircraft whilst in the hangar, are matters included in the analysis currently being undertaken. Defence does not yet have a position on these matters”.
When asked if there had been any design changes made to the hangar to accommodate the Phase 8 helicopter, Rod Equid said, “The hangar design is as approved at Second Pass for the AWD Program in 2007. Changes, if any, for the replacement helicopter will be considered as part of Second Pass for the AIR9000 Phase 8 Program in 2011”.
The Air Warfare Destroyer programme is hugely expensive, but seeks to deliver a capability that is light years ahead of anything that Navy has previously operated. Its ability to detect, track and prosecute multiple air threats – not to mention inherent Anti-Submarine and Anti Surface Warfare capability - is more than just impressive, it is staggering.
But it is not a Military Off The Shelf (MOTS) design and the more integration of different systems are undertaken, the higher the risk obviously becomes. Navantia has a wealth of experience integrating the Aegis Combat System into their warships, but with each individual communications suite, and with each weapons system, or national EW requirement new problems arise.
The Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance has done a lot of work mitigating of known risk but, to further mangle the already mangled words of a former US Defence Secretary, “We don’t know what we don’t know”. For the time being, and given the block production difficulties do not adversely affect the programme, things appear on track for the delivery of HMAS Hobart to the Commonwealth in December 2014.