Australia’s Next Supply Ships: Serious about Success

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HMAS Sirius(click to view full) The Royal Australian Navy is on its way to fixing the crisis in its amphibious fleet, giving itself modernized FFG-7 and ANZAC Class frigates, and buying itself advanced new air defense destroyers. Without an adequate support fleet, however, the breadth of territory and ocean it has to cover will work […]
HMAS Sirius, Sydney

HMAS Sirius
(click to view full)

The Royal Australian Navy is on its way to fixing the crisis in its amphibious fleet, giving itself modernized FFG-7 and ANZAC Class frigates, and buying itself advanced new air defense destroyers. Without an adequate support fleet, however, the breadth of territory and ocean it has to cover will work against the RAN. The existing replenishment fleet is a combination of the old and the limited, so something has to be done. As of June 2014, something will be done – outside of Australia.

RAN Replenishment Ships: Current and Future Fleet

Current Fleet

HMAS Success, 2009

HMAS Success
(click to view full)

The current fleet consists of just 2 ships. One is smaller than most contemporaries, and about to age out. The other is a converted civilian tanker that can only transfer solid supplies by helicopter.

HMAS Success II [T-AOR 304] was based on the French ‘Durance’ Class, and built in Australia by Cockatoo Dockyard Pty Ltd at Sydney, New South Wales. At 18,221t full load, she is the largest ship ever built in Australia for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), and was commissioned in April 1986.

Success has a cargo capacity of 10,200t: 8,707t diesel fuel and 975t JP-5 naval aviation fuel, and 116 m3 of fresh water (which = 116t), plus up to 250t of secured ammunition, 95t of components and naval stores, and 57t of food and other consumables. Replenishment at sea is fully military grade with 4 RAS lines, 2 of which can also be used to transfer solid cargo via a traveller and tension highline. The ship was fitted with a double hull during the first half of 2011, and will have spent 30 years in service as of April 2016. Replacement is required.

HMAS Sirius [T-AO 266] was built at Hyundai Mipo Dockyard in South Korea in 2004 as MV Delos, a double-hulled commercial product tanker. She was purchased by the Commonwealth Government in June 2004, but modifications were needed underway replenishment, including a flight deck for helicopter operations. The 46,755t (full load) ship was commissioned in September 2006 as HMAS Sirius.

Sirius has a far larger capacity, and is able to perform liquid transfers at sea, but other supplies must be transferred by helicopter from her retrofitted flight deck. Cargo capacity is 29,320 m3 of fuel in the main tanks, plus secondary tanks with 5,486 m3 capacity for JP-5 aviation fuel. Note that these measures aren’t exactly equal to tonnage, because 1 m3 fuel has a different density than 1 m3 water. HMAS Sirius is expected to remain in service until the early 2020s at least.

Future Fleet

A15 Cantabria into Sydney, 2013

Cantabria into Sydney
(click to view full)

The RAN is about to bring 3 large Hobart Class destroyers into service, but it’s the new LPD HMAS Choules and 2 Canberra Class 27,500t LHD amphibious assault ships that are going to put a real strain on the RAN’s support fleet. Liberal Party defense minister Sen. Johnson didn’t mince words when he announced the competition, early in their governing term:

“With the large LHD’s [sic] – 28,000 tonnes each – we must have a suitable replenishment ship to supply and support those vessels going forward, the planning for this should have been done a long, long time ago.”

The Australian government is explicit about needing “fuel, aviation fuel, supplies, provisions and munitions on these ships,” and they’ve short-listed 2 main competitors to build the ships outside of Australia:

Cantabria Class. The Cantabrias are an enlarged 19,500t version of the Patino Class replenishment ship. Fuel capacity rises to 8,920 m3 ship fuel and 1,585 m3 of JP-5 naval aviation fuel. Throw in 470t of general cargo, 280t of secured ammunition, and 215 m3 of fresh water to round out its wet/dry capabilities. These ships also carry a crew medical center with 10 beds, including operating facilities equipped for telemedicine by videoconference, an X-ray room, dental surgery, sterilization laboratory, and gas containment.

Spain already uses this ship type, and Navantia S.A. is already building the Hobart Class and Canberra Class, giving them a deep relationship with Australian industry and the Navy.

Aegir Class. The government named Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), who are currently building Britain’s MARS 37,000t oiler/support ships based on BMT’s Aegir design. The concept is scalable, and Australia’s government sized the variant they’ve shortlisted at around 26,000t. BMT’s Aegir 26 design offers up to 19,000 m3 of cargo fuel, and 2-5 replenishment at sea stations for hoses and transfer lines. The design itself is somewhat customizable, so it will be interesting to see what the offer’s final specifications and features are.

Recall that HMAS Sirius was also built in South Korea, albeit in a different dockyard. That isn’t surprising, because South Korea arguably has the world’s best shipbuilding industry. Norway and Britain have each purchased customized versions of the Aegir Class ships.

Contracts & Key Events

MARS Tanker concept

BMT’s MARS/Aegir
(click to view full)

June 6/14: Shortlist. The Australian government announces a program for 2 new supply ships:

“In light of the urgent need to forestall a capability gap in this crucial area; the current low productivity of shipbuilders involved in the AWD program [DID: see June 2014 elaboration]; and value for money considerations, the Government has given First Pass approval for Defence to conduct a limited competitive tender process between Navantia of Spain and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) of South Korea for the construction of two replacement replenishment vessels based on existing designs….

HMAS Success was commissioned in 1986, this ship should have been transitioned out of service much sooner than now and, if you’re familiar with the bathtub curve, the costs of running that particular replenishment ship are climbing, climbing very high and are very burdensome for the Navy.”

When pressed, they explicitly identify the contenders as Navantia’s Cantabria Class, and BMT’s Aegir Class via DSME. They won’t be built in Australia, because the government doesn’t believe that the industrial infrastructure and experience is in place to build 20,000+ tonne ships locally. Britain has made a similar calculation, while Canada provides a cautionary example by building smaller supply ships locally at over 5x Britain’s cost. Sources: Australian DoD, “Minister for Defence – Transcript – Naval shipbuilding announcement, CEA Technologies, Canberra” and “Minister for Defence – Boosting Australia’s maritime capabilities”.

Additional Readings

* Australian Navy – HMAS Success (II).

* Australian Navy – HMAS Sirius.

* BMT – BMT Aegir Logistic Support Vessels. Can be built in T-AO or A-AOR designs. Britain is building a larger version of the Aegir Class, and even they concluded that letting South Korea build them was the only financially sensible option.

* DID – Britain’s Tide Class: Supplies are From MARS. Britain ordered a larger 37,000t Aegir variant.

* Navantia S.A. – AOR Cantabria.

* RAN’s Navy Daily (Jan 17/14) – HMAS Sirius set to keep the fleet moving in 2014.

* ASPI Blog (May 3/13) – Shipbuilding and maritime projects. Includes a timeline chart, based on the 2013 Defence White Paper. Which will be superseded by a 2015 White Paper.

* RAN (Feb 4/13) – ESPS Cantabria demonstrates her versatility.

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