An interesting overview on the Hunter class from The Australian's Defence supplement.
Sailing into the future of warfare
The Hunter-class future frigate will be at the cutting edge of modern naval technology
This year is a pivotal one for the Hunter-class future frigates as the project goes from design to construction. Heavily armed and 150m long — which is almost the length of the MCG playing field — the new ships will be at the leading edge of naval technology and twice the size of the Anzac frigates they are replacing.
As they start to come into service later this decade, the nine ships will form the backbone of the largest expansion of the RAN’s surface fleet since World War II.
The heart of their combat power are 32 vertical launch missile cells that can hold a single SM-2 or a quad-pack of ESSMs for use mainly against aerial targets.
These weapons are controlled by a world-class Australian-designed and built radar suite from Canberra company CEA.
Using fixed arrays, the system is able to produce a large number of multidirectional electronic beams simultaneously that can detect even small targets from a distance of several hundred kilometres — an essential capability for defending the ship from saturation missile attacks.
Based on the British Global Combat Ship — selected by Canada as well as the Royal Navy — with a displacement of 8000 tonnes, a top speed of 27 knots and a range of 13,000km, they are big enough to carry a comprehensive anti-submarine warfare suite.
This will use a hull-mounted and immensely powerful variable depth low-frequency active sonar for long-range detection.
Prosecution of a hostile submarine — of which there are a growing number in this region — is done with lightweight torpedoes fired from the ship itself, or more likely dropped from an embarked MH-60R Seahawk helicopter as it hovers over the target.
The GCS design is optimised for anti-submarine warfare, having a stealthy hull form and exceptionally quiet diesel-electric motors that will make the ship hard to detect. High-speed propulsion comes from two Rolls- Royce gas turbine engines.
Prime contractor BAE Systems is confident that construction will begin on schedule in the final quarter of this year. The company is reluctant to commit to a specific date because of the potential impact of COVID-19 on its supply chain and — like all of industry — the need to modify work practices to guarantee staff safety.
At the moment there are 600 employees directly on the project and, despite the virus, it’s business as usual. The gigantic main assembly hall at the new purposebuilt Osborne shipyard in South Australia is almost complete and numerous subcontracts have already been awarded.
One of the reasons for selecting the British design is that the RN program is about four years ahead of Australia’s and the first ship is being constructed in the city after which it is named — Glasgow. Everything below deck is identical to the Hunter-class, giving Australians the chance to gain experience and insights into exactly how the ship is being built before returning home and applying that knowledge locally.
The RAN also has people on site in Scotland and in the British Ministry of Defence, and they have full visibility of the program. If any changes need to be made to the British design during construction, these will automatically flow through.
The Australian superstructure will be different because of the distinctive radar mast — and also because the RAN uses different missiles and helicopters than their British counterparts. However, many other features of the parent design will be retained, such as an enormous bridge — and below it the critical combat information centre that “fights” the ship in wartime — as well as a huge internally located multi-mission bay with an overhead crane.
This is another unique feature of the design and is big enough to house extra resources such as a Chinook helicopter or up to four RHIBs of the type used by special forces for high-speed operations. For humanitarian and disaster relief operations — which are becoming increasingly prevalent — this space also could be used to accommodate temporarily dozens of extra people.
As well as having staff embedded in the British program, BAE Systems also has retained key staff in Australia to build the first two Offshore Patrol Vessels at Osborne before work transitions to Western Australia for the construction of the remaining 10.
This approach was taken by the federal government to minimise the shipbuilding “Valley of Death” between the end of the Air Warfare Destroyer program — the last of these three ships was handed over to the RAN on February 28 — and the construction of the Hunter-class. This more modest contract for the construction of lightly armed 1800-tonne ships is also going smoothly.
The first of the Arafura-class is taking shape at Osbourne, with the fore and aft sections now joined together to form the complete hull. All of the trades required to do the work — especially welders, pipe fitters and electricians — also will be essential for the Hunter-class.
Depending on their age, workers might then eventually move to the next major activity in the 2030s — a midlife upgrade of the Air Warfare Destroyers. This is all part of the plan to give Australia a rolling naval shipbuilding capability in perpetuity.
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