Truly excellent news from Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull yesterday when he confirmed BAE Systems as the preferred tenderer for Australia’s huge SEA 5000 Future Frigate programme award. Otherwise referred to as the GCS-A (Global Combat Ship – Australia) the programme will, from 2020, see the UK defence company building a total of nine state-of-the-art frigates for the Royal Australian Navy at the ASC yard in Adelaide.
Based on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship development, the first of which class HMS Glasgow is currently under construction by BAE Systems on the Clyde, the SEA 5000 award for which BAE has beaten off competition from two large Italian and Spanish rivals, has been estimated by the Australian Government to be worth A$35 billion (£20 billion) during the 30 year through life programme.
One of the largest ever military shipbuilding deal announcements, UK Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the deal as the biggest Naval defence contract for a decade while the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson said the award to BAE Systems showed “confidence in British design, engineering, innovation and our world class military”. International Trade Secretary Dr. Liam Fox said that “we are excited for the opportunities this will bring to both nations including increased data and information sharing, high end technology transfer and collaboration at the cutting edge of maritime expertise”.
Building a closer relationship with Australia is important for the UK and I would add that the winning of this award by BAE Systems should not only be seen as being transformational for both Australia and the company but also as being one that determines the way forward for naval shipbuilding globally which will increasingly be through collaboration deals such as this.
The Australia win builds on BAE Systems superb record of world class design and build of complex maritime platform capability and positions the company as the leading naval shipbuilder in the southern hemisphere. Importantly, it also confirms without doubt that the strategy the company has adopted to secure new business in international markets through transfer of technology and development of indigenous industrial capability really is paying off.
BAE Systems will be responsible for build and management of the nine ship programme throughout. The Global Combat Ship (GCS-A) ships will be known in Australia as Hunter class Frigates and will begin entering service in the late 2020’s.
With all nine GCS-A frigates for the Australian Navy to be built at the ASC Osbourne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, the agreement between Australia and BAE Systems envisages that the currently Government owned ASC Shipyards will now become subsidiary of BAE Systems and remain so through the whole build programme. The Commonwealth of Australia will retain a sovereign share in ASC Shipbuilding and the plan envisages that at the end of the build programme the Australian Government could potentially resume ownership of ASC Shipbuilding from BAE Systems, a move ensuring retention by Australia of intellectual property together with the highly skilled workforce and the associated equipment investment.
UK personnel engaged in design and engineering of the GCS-A frigate will be involved in the programme. Other UK based suppliers and subcontractors engaged in maritime sector such as Thales will also likely be involved in the GCS-A build as will US companies such as Lockheed Martin which, according to the Australian Prime Minister yesterday, will supply the Aegis combat management system and missile cells.
While the award of GCS-A should rightly be regarded as being an absolutely fantastic win for BAE Systems, I suspect that coming as it does during rather difficult Brexit negotiations it should also to be regarded as a very important confidence win for the UK.
Importantly, the GCS-A programme award to BAE Systems should be seen as a very significant endorsement of the Type 26 ‘Global Combat Ship’ programme design and they will provide the UK and Australian navies with the most advanced anti-submarine warfare capability in the world. As such, the hope is also that the Australian win could potentially enhance the possibility of BAE Systems, as part of a wider bidding team also winning a separate deal with the Canadian Government in respect of a requirement to build state-of-the-art frigates for the Canadian Navy.
Several years in its making, the nine vessel SEA 5000 Future Frigate programme will provide work at the ASC Techport naval shipbuilding hub in Adelaide, South Australia over the next two decades. The Techport South facility at Osbourne contains the most modern shipbuilding facilities in Australia while the ASC Techport North facility contains the high tech submarine construction and maintenance facilities. During what is envisaged to be a twenty year programme, SEA 5000 is eventually expected to create and sustain up to 5,000 direct and indirect jobs and importantly, play a significant role in retention of important and very necessary skills in-country.
BAE Systems already employs over 1,000 staff on maritime related programmes in Australia, these including sustaining and upgrading existing ANZAC class Frigates together with other Guided Missile Destroyers, Helicopter landing and Hydrographic ships.
To facilitate the build programme, BAE Systems intends to invest AUD $100 million in information and technology systems in order to support AUD $1.5 billion of intellectual property, technology transfer of technical data that includes ship design, the digital shipyard processes required at the Techport site and the build technique and methodologies required.
By any standards imaginable, the GCS-A programme is one of Australia’s largest and most significant investments in military capability. The program will not only provide Australia with the world’s most advanced anti-submarine warfare frigate capability but also maritime capability that is critical in respect of Australia’s future defence and security requirement.
The GCS-A Frigate programme may also be described as being unique in that it not only strengthens but guarantees Australian naval shipbuilding capability and capacity continuing long term. GCS-A is as previously mentioned eventually likely to create 4,000 new local jobs and importantly, from a sovereign capability element Australian industry and component manufacturing companies will be contributing an estimated 70% of work on the nine ships. Clearly this is a programme is of immense importance to the Australian economy in the years ahead and I understand that some 500 businesses already pre-qualified for the supply chain work.
The award of the GCS-A programme to BAE Systems cements what has been a long and very successful relationship that stretches back several decades. Indeed, BAE Systems has long been regarded as a trusted partner and with a history of in-country involvement stretching back over 65 years and the company being the largest foreign owned defence company operating in Australia, award for the complex GCS-A ship programme will lead to a doubling of size of the BAE Systems workforce in Australia.
Once contracted, the GCS-A program will represent the largest ever competed maritime contract success across BAE Systems globally. Over the coming weeks the company will enter into contract negotiations with the Australian Government and workforce mobilisation will if it hasn’t already commenced will do so quickly as the company moves through to the contract negotiation phase. As ever the focus of the GCS-A programme for BAE Systems will always be on delivery to the same high standards that the customer has come to expect from the company over the years. It is surely this combination together with the design and capability of the GCS-A ship, cost and emphasis of BAE Systems investing in Australia that reinforced the choice of BAE Systems as the GCS-A winner.
In respect of the detailed capability, at approximately 6,900 tonnes, the GCS-A Frigate has been designed to be a highly capable and versatile multi-mission frigate capability and one that is primarily required to support anti-submarine warfare, air defence and general-purpose operations anywhere on the world’s oceans. As the world’s newest warship design, GCS-A represents the most advanced anti-submarine capability anywhere in the world. The capability benefits from advanced digital design techniques and importantly, it builds further on the Royal Navy’s formidable pedigree in anti-submarine warfare and the extensive operational experience it has enjoyed with the current Type 23 Frigate capability.
Designed to replace ships in Anzac-class from the mid to late 2020s, GCS-A has been designed to undertake a wide range of roles that range from humanitarian and disaster relief operations right through to high intensity warfare. The capability incorporates many years of investment and expertise that make it a formidable, near-silent anti-submarine warfare frigate and my understanding is that the entire design of the ship has been developed to ensure optimal stealth capability in all conditions. That the UK is already building Type 26 goes a long way toward de-risking the GCS-A class programme.
Another important factor here is that as with Type 26 capability the GCS-A ships will be constructed with a specifically developed acoustically quiet hull, one that also features unique sonar capabilities, modular digital design and open systems architecture to facilitate through-life support and upgrades as new technology develops.
In addition, these vessels has been designed to maximise versatility and flexibility of operational roles, an example of this being the integrated Mission Bay and Hangar that is capable of supporting multiple helicopters, unmanned vehicles, boats, mission loads and disaster relief stores. A launcher can be provided for fixed wing UAV operation and the Flight Deck is capable of landing a Chinook helicopter for transport of embarked forces.
This, as I have implied throughout this piece, is great news for the company, the Australian Government and also the UK. It is a day to be savoured and one that has potentially changed the face of future naval maritime shipbuilding procurement. The bottom line is surely that the way forward is collaboration.
CHW (London – 29th June 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785