Australia’s Hazard(ous) Frigate UpgradeSep 21, 2009 10:54 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
The FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates make for a fascinating defense procurement case study. To this day, the ships are widely touted as a successful example of cost containment and avoidance of requirements creep – both of which have been major weaknesses in US Navy acquisition. On the other hand, compromises made to meet short-term cost targets resulted in short service lives and decisions to retire, sell, or downgrade the ships instead of upgrading them.
Australia’s 6 ships of this class have served alongside the RAN’s more modern ANZAC Class frigates, which are undergoing upgrades of their own to help them handle the reality of modern anti-ship missiles. With the SEA 4000 Hobart Class air warfare frigates still just a gleam in an admiral’s eye, the government looked for a way to upgrade their FFG-7 “Adelaide Class” to keep them in service until 2020 or so. The A$ 1.46 billion SEA 1390 project has not gone very well… but the new Labor government has just officially accepted the last frigate.
Australia’s Adelaide Class & Its Upgrade Program
The FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry class was produced as a capable 3,600t-4,100t anti-submarine platform, with some secondary air defense and anti-ship capabilities via its SM-1 Standard and RGM-84 Harpoon missiles, and which could be bought in large enough numbers to fill the US Navy’s needs. The ships’ hull twisting and cracking problems were solved early on, and they proved they could take a hit and stay afloat when the USS Stark was struck by 2 Iraqi Exocet missiles during the Iran/ Iraq war. By FFG-36, the “FFG-7 Flight III (Long)” variant was the sole US production version, with an extra 8 feet of length that let it accommodate larger and more capable SH-60 Seahawk helicopters instead of the SH-2 Sea Sprites.
The bad news was the flip side of the good news. Very little reserved space for growth (39 tons in the original design), and the standard inflexible, proprietary electronics of the time, made updates problematic. So problematic that the US Navy gave up on the idea of upgrading their electronics, radars etc. for new communications realities and advanced missile threats. Instead, they removed the 25 “FFG-7 Short” ships from inventory via bargain basement sales to allies or outright retirement, after an average of only 18 years of service. The remaining 30 ships received minor upgrades but had their no-longer standard SM-1 missiles removed – and with them, any air defense role. They do not operate in dangerous areas without cover from high-end AEGIS destroyers and cruisers.
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) acquired 4 US Navy designed FFG-7 class frigates (FFG-7 Flight I: FFG-17 now FFG 1 Adelaide, FFG-18 now FFG 2 Canberra, FFG-35 now FFG 3 Sydney and FFG-44 now FFG 4 Darwin) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1983, the Australian Government decided to build 2 more ships of this class at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard – now owned and operated by Tenix Defence Pty Ltd. HMAS Melbourne [FFG 05], was delivered in 1992. HMAS Newcastle [FFG 6] was delivered in 1993.
The supportability of the Adelaide Class had been the subject of discussion since 1987, culminating in the initiation of the FFG Upgrade Project in FY 93/94. Between 1993 and 1996, a Surface Combatant Force Study conducted within Australia’s Department of Defence analyzed the capabilities of their 14-ship surface combatant force,. Unsurprisingly, they concluded that the FFG 7 class required an increase in capability.
These 2 decisions – to build 2 more 4,000t Adelaide Class frigates, and to begin a capability improvement program instead of buying second-hand 9,700t Kidd Class destroyers that the US was making available on the open market – largely set the stage for what was to follow.
The Adelaide Class upgrade program has a number of elements, but the 3 most important are (1) a new combat and fire control system with an upgraded long-range air search radar, (2) improved air defense missiles, and (3) an upgraded sonar suite that includes both a new hull-mounted sonar and integration of towed sonars into a common data picture. Their goal was to create ships that would remain able to defend the fleet against aerial attacks, including supersonic anti-ship missiles that are beginning to appear in the region. The other regional trend involves a growing number of quiet diesel-electric submarines being purchased by nations near Australia’s sea lanes. Hence the need for ships with better anti-submarine capabilities.
Buying Kidd class destroyers would have improved both capabilities, while providing much more room for growth. That decision is water under the bow now.
Under SEA 1390, the Adelaide Class ships are receiving a modified and re-hosted FFG Naval Combat Data System (NCDS) and Australian Distributed Architecture Combat System (ADACS). It will operate on upgraded computers with new interfaces, and use an upgraded Local Area Network (LAN) to handle the need for higher data transmission rates. The Combat System will be supported by the introduction of the LINK 16 tactical data link to complement LINK 11, and provide better allied and helicopter interoperability.
Defensively, the old AN/SLQ-32v2 “Slick 32″ electronic support system that picks up and classifies enemy radar emissions is being replaced with newer technology. For underwater warfare, the AN/SQS-56 and MULLOKA sonar systems will be removed, in favor of an improved variant of the ANZAC Class’ Thompson (Thales) Spherion Medium Frequency Sonar. Electronics that can integrate the Spherion’s data with towed sonars, in order to provide the frigate with a single underwater picture, will be every bit as important.
Offensively, The Gun and Missile Fire Control System will be upgraded from Mk92 Mod 2 to Mod 12 variant, and the AN/SPS-49v4 air surveillance radar upgraded to AN/SPS-49Av1MPU. A multi-sensor Radar Integrated Automatic Detect and Track System (RIADT) is also added to improve target detection, tracking and engagement, particularly against low altitude targets in cluttered ocean or near-shore environments.
All this must work together well, in order to make the Improved Adelaide Class’ weapons upgrades effective. The ships’ existing Mk13 GMLS pop-up launcher will retain its 40 round magazine, but will be fitted for more advanced SM-2 anti-air missiles and Harpoon strike missiles (usually fitted 32 SM-2 and 8 Harpoon). An 8-cell Mk41 tactical-length (vs. longer strike length) vertical launching system adds room for another 8 SM-2 Standards – or up to 32 shorter-range RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow air defense missiles.
Self-contained drop-in weapon changes round out the mix. The ship’s 20mm Phalanx CIWS last-ditch defense systems will be upgraded to Block 1B for better capabilities against UAVs, helicopters, and small boats; the MU90 Eurotorp lightweight torpedo will be ready in the torpedo tubes; the Harpoon anti-ship missiles will be RGM-84 Block IIs with GPS guidance and land attack capability; and RAFAEL’s Mini-Typhoon 12.7mm remote weapons systems will supplement the Phalanx’s defenses against fast boats and similar threats.
SEA 1390: Project & Industrial Structure
The SEA 1390 project has had several phases:
- Phase 1 – Project Definition Studies (1995-1998) – completed
- Phase 2 – FFG Upgrade Implementation (1999-2008)
- Phase 3 – A Study into the replacement of the SM-1 missile.
- Phase 4A – Upgrade of the existing test set to enable testing of the SM-1 replacement missile.
- Phase 4B – Replacement of the SM-1 Missile capability.
The RFP for “SEA 1390″ was released in 1994, and Transfield Defence Systems of Melbourne (TDS, now Tenix Defence Pty Ltd), and ADI Limited of Sydney (now Thales Australia) were selected to conduct the Phase 1 Project Definition Studies. The Australian Government subsequently endorsed a list of capability improvements and supportability measures for the Adelaide Class.
ADI won the tender for Phase 2 on Nov 13/98, and signed an A$900 million contract on June 1/99. Options to enhance the ships’ electronic warfare capabilities, improve training facilities, et. al. would push this to A$ 962 million in February 1998 dollars. Comnpanies involved included:
- ADI Systems (now Thales Australia) – Integration Authority and Combat System Design.
- Gibbs and Cox – Platform System Design Authority. The ship’s upgrades will push its weight to 4,200t, and American upgrades to 4,100t have pushed a hull designed for 3,600t into stability issues.
- AAI – On Board Training System (OBTS)
- CEA – Data Fusion system.
- Lockheed Martin Naval Electronic and Surveillance Systems (LM NE&SS) – Mk 92 Mod 12 Fire Control System.
- RAFAEL – Electronic Support Measures. Tenix would become a RAFAEL subcontractor.
- Thales Underwater Systems (formerly Thompson Marconi Sonar) – Underwater Warfare Design Agent.
Other major subcontractors include Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Launching Systems, who would handle the 8-cell Mk41 vertical launching system placed in front of the Mk13 pop-up launcher and magazine in the bow, and the ESSM and SM-2 missiles the ships will carry. Replacement of the diesel generators and air compressors will improve the ships’ supportability, and involve their own equipment contractors.
On July 12/04 the Government gave Second Pass approval to upgrade 4 of its 6 Adelaide Class frigates to fire SM-2 Surface to Air Missiles. SEA 1390 Pase 4B originally intended to achieve this capability upgrade within a Government approved budget of A$ 582m in 2004 dollars. On July 15/04, ADI won the contract for A$ 402.5 million, covering 4 ships: HMAS Darwin, Melbourne, Newcastle, and Sydney, with completion scheduled for early 2009. These 4 ships would then serve until 2020 or so, while HMAS Adelaide and Canberra would be decommissioned.
SEA 1390: The Issues
Reports place the total cost of the upgrade to date at A$ 1.46 billion (about $1.01 billion at June 2004 conversion), or A$ 360 million per ship, with 98% of those funds already paid out to Thales Australia. The project is also reportedly 4 years behind, and in 2007, Australian Navy chief Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders refused to accept HMAS Sydney for operational release, on the grounds that its fighting systems did not function properly.
In January 2008, an unnamed “government whistleblower” claimed that even this understated the problems.
Towed and on-board sonar sensors could not be integrated, he claimed, significantly hampering submarine detection. Long range chaff could not be used, datalinks to the onboard S-70 Seahawk helicopters were not functioning, and though the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles had been fired from the ships, the electronic support measures that find enemy radars are not working properly, and the ships’ radars were alleged to be inadequate. The Australian Defence Materiel Organization, for its part, has taken the official position that the problems are fixable, and says that SEA 1390 can still deliver FFG-7 ships that have been improved enough to face modern threats.
Incoming defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon did not appear to believe this, and was especially vociferous in his criticism. In response, the allegations flew in Parliament as well as the media. Obviously, ships in this state cannot be sent to even low-medium threat conflict zones, and there are allegations that sailors are quitting in disproportionate numbers due to their inability to deploy. There are even claims that the project was partly driven by a desire to maximize government-owned ADI’s sale price, before it was sold to France’s Thales.
This is interesting in a way, as raising this issue also raises questions about the 1990s construction program as a “jobs buying” measure, in lieu of purchasing more capable ships second-hand.
Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James went right to that point when asked by the media, saying that while the [Liberal Party] Howard government was responsible for the upgrade contract, it was the [Labor Party] Whitlam government that chose the wrong frigates to begin with [DID: as opposed to the Kidd Class destroyers, which were also available]:
“There’s no one government that can be blamed for this, the whole problem has both parties’ fingerprints on it.”
Ultimately, however, the issue is ships.
If the Improved Adelaide class can have its upgrades completed within a reasonable time and budget, the Royal Australian Navy will end up with 4 ships that plus up its anti-submarine warfare numbers until 2020, and can perform the full range of naval duties in low to medium threat environments.
If the upgrades fail, or become prohibitively expensive, the result will be a set of ships that still cannot deploy in threat zones, and the waste of A$ 1.5+ billion. Under that scenario, Australia’s effective surface combatant fleet will shrink to just 6 ANZAC frigates, to be supplemented 7 or more years later by 3 (or possibly 4) Hobart class air warfare frigates. This set would be supported by the new 56m Armidale class Offshore Patrol Vessels, which are suitable for Coast Guard type duties throughout the South Pacific and very little else. The extra coverage slots would have to be filled somehow, perhaps by lesser capability ships like an extended OPV, a corvette like Navantia’s BAM, or a more capable corvette or frigate design. Even lesser options will require additional funds, however – otherwise, the demise of the SEA 1390 program would simply leave a hole.
If the result is a hole, or a significantly reduced capability, then the decision to extend and then to upgrade Australia’s FFG-7 will have harmed Australia’s overall naval capability via a very expensive program. One that came, twice, disguised as a bargain.
Updates and Developments
Jan 27/10: Thales Australia announces that HMAS Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and Newcastle, have all been contractually accepted into service by the navy, and the project had been struck from the Government’s notorious “Projects of Concern” blacklist. The Australian.
Dec 18/09: HMAS Melbourne fires the SM-2 Block IIIA edium range air defense missile, an upgrade from its previous SM-1 armament. Australia’s upgraded Adelaide Class frigates are all slated to add this capability, and the lessons learned may allow Raytheon to offer a more standardized upgrade package for other operators of the SM-1 missile and/or FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class Australian DoD | Raytheon.
Sept 17/09: Australia’s Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science announces announces contractual acceptance of the last upgraded FFG-7 frigate, HMAS Newcastle. In legal terms, it means the government is certifying that the ship meets all requirements of the contract. In practical terms, it means that any problems discovered after this point are the government’s responsibility, not the contractor’s. Combet thanked a couple of specific individuals for reaching this point:
“Twenty four days before the election of the Rudd Labor Government the Australian National Audit Office released a performance audit of the FFG program. This report concluded that this $1.5 billion upgrade was over four and half years behind schedule… So concerned was the new Government regarding projects like the FFG upgrade, the Sea Sprite and the Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft that we established the ‘Projects of Concern’ process.
…The oversight provided by the ‘Projects of Concern’ unit was very important in improving cooperation between the parties. The involvement of the General Manager-Major Programs was especially important in elevating this issue. [Thales Australia CEO] Chris Jenkins realised that the reputation of Thales was at risk and showed strong leadership to improve contractor performance. This project also highlights one of the advantages of having multinational companies active in Australia. Thales was able to reach back into their parent corporation to access specialists who helped resolve some of the issues around the upgrade.”
The 2006 re-baselining had set this milestone for December 2009, so project delivery was about 3 months ahead of project expectations, even if it was years later based on the initial schedule. DoD release | Combet’s speech | Thales Australia release.
Nov 20/08: Australia’s Minister for Defence announces that the DMO has agreed to Contractual Acceptance of HMAS Sydney and HMAS Darwin from prime contractor Thales Australia. He adds that contractual acceptance of HMAS Melbourne is expected by the end of 2008, and provisional acceptance of HMAS Newcastle is now expected by June 2009. See also Thales release.
This acceptance milestone also includes the new FFG Warfare Systems Support Centre at Garden Island. Integrated combat system performance has been one of the project’s biggest difficulties, with claims that key weapons systems were not fully integrated. The ministerial release adds that upgraded software for the Australian Distributed Architecture Combat System has now been delivered – but it did not say whether this had resolved past issues, in part or in full.
Defence minister Fitzgibbon recognized the Hon. Greg Combet MP, Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement, for his role in resolving outstanding issues with the project:
“Greg invested a lot of time and effort in getting the parties to the contract – Defence, Thales Australia and Raphael – to sit down and talk about the issues impeding the project. This has resulted in much greater collaboration between the parties than has previously been experienced during the project’s history [as well as improved progress].”
Nov 19/08: Thales Australia announces that it has completed the Detailed Design Review for both Mission and Support Systems for project SEA 1442 Phase 3: Maritime Communications Modernisation.
SEA 1442 involves the introduction of an Internet Protocol (IP) based Maritime Tactical Wide Area Network (MTWAN) into the Royal Australian Navy, interfacing with the RAN’s existing analogue system. The MTWAN is scheduled to be installed on all 8 ANZAC frigates, its 4 upgraded Adelaide Class guided missile frigates, as well as the amphibious ships HMAS Manoora, HMAS Kanimbla, and HMAS Success. The first installation at the Fleet Network Centre is scheduled for December 2008.
Jan 19/08: HMAS Adelaide [FFG-01] is decommissioned after 27 years of service. Following her decommissioning, Adelaide will be gifted to the NSW Government, to be sunk off Terrigal on the New South Wales central coast, as an artificial reef and dive attraction. DoD release.
Additional Readings & Sources
- Australia DoD, Defence Materiel Organization – SEA 1390 – FFG Upgrade Project (FFG UP)
- Royal Australian Navy – Adelaide Class Guided Missile Frigate
- GlobalSecurity – FFG-7 OLIVER HAZARD PERRY-class
- Tenix – SEA 1390 Ph 2 FFG Upgrade. They stepped back in as a subcontractor to Israel’s RAFAEL, who is integrating the electronic support systems that detect enemy radars.
- GlobalSecurity – DDG-993 Kidd Class. They are now referred to as the DDG 1801 Chi Teh Class.
- The Australian (Jan 7/08) – Navy cost sinking budget
- The Australian (Jan 3/08) – Parties exchange blame over frigates
- The Age (Jan 2/08) – Adelaide frigates a nightmare: govt
- The Courier-Mail (Jan 1/08) – Navy Ships Unfit For War
- Lockheed Martin (Sept 25/07) – Lockheed Martin Awarded $20.6 Million For Fire Control System Upgrade To Support Enhanced Missile Australian Navy Frigate. this would give them SM-2 missile capability.
- Australian DoD (Annual Report 2004/05) – Approved Major Capital Equipment Projects: SEA 1390 Ph 2 FFG Upgrade Implementation. It isn’t going well.
- Sea Power magazine (September 2004) – Australia to Upgrade Adelaide-Class Ships, Eyes UAV Fleet
- Asia Pulse (October 2002) – Taiwan’s Kidd-Class Warships Deal To Cost US$785 Mln. For 4 of the fully multi-role, 9,700t ships, or about 20-25% of their original cost. The Kidds would also have required upgrades, but have more native capability and the space to accommodate upgrades more easily.
- Australian Navy, Navy News (June 14/99) – $900m FFG Upgrade
- Australian government (#65, Dec 1/98) – Australian Centre for Maritime Studies, Australian Maritime Digest. See “RAN Frigate Upgrade.”