Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR October 2015 Contents Asia Pacific Defence Reporter OCT 2015 15
SURFACE SHIP VULNERABILITY
There has been much debate about the future of
surface combatants. It centres on two main issues –
how many? And how vulnerable?
Let’s dispense with the how many question straight
away. There has been no indication of whether it will
be a straight one-for-one with the present fleet of
eight ANZAC frigates, though it seems unlikely that
there could be more. Indeed, it is quite possible that
a more capable frigate would be significantly more
expensive to acquire – and that could result in a
number less than eight.
Now the question of vulnerability. With the
increasing range and accuracy of anti-access/area
denial (A2D) weapons there are those who say the
surface combatant is on the way out, apart from those
which can be deployed in a task group bristling with
defensive systems. Although the anti-ship missile
defence (ASMD) project for the ANZACs has been
a great success and soon all of the ANZACs will be
so fitted, will this be enough for surface combatants
to remain in service out to the 2050s and beyond?
Maybe the answer is to have sufficient empty internal
space, power and weight service life margins for
future upgrades which will certainly be required.
Organic mine countermeasures will be required
for the surface combatants. Most likely these will
take the form of remotely operated underwater
vehicles which can travel up to 1 nautical mile ahead
of the surface ship, signalling back detection and
classification information to enable mine neutralisation
or avoidance. The SEA 1778 Phase 1 Deployable
Mine Countermeasures project is tasked with coming
up with a suitable capability.
The surface combatant will trail a long towed array,
sufficiently sensitive to detect underwater sounds of
a submarine or torpedoes in the vicinity, with an extra
role of sending decoy signals should torpedoes be
A more difficult challenge will arise in the future
when it is predicted that submarines may act as
mother ships to unleash a swarm of explosively armed
unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) to attack a
surface ship. This is the underwater equivalent of
surface swarms of fast inshore attack craft FIAC)
currently a threat which requires multiple hi-rate
cannons to be located around the surface combatant
for engaging these FIACs. It is not yet obvious how
UUV swarms can be defeated.
A further vulnerability is the threat of cyber
and electromagnetic warfare, where the surface
combatant’s internal networks and external
communications are either shut down or spoofed with
misleading information. It is quite possible that future
surface combatants will have to be able to continue
to operate in a communications denied environment
with sensors proofed against attack.
FRIGATE DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS
When APDR asked French naval shipbuilder DCNS
what they thought the Government was looking for
in SEA 5000 they responded “We understand the
Government will be after a frigate larger than the
ANZAC Class and be designed and equipped with
a strong emphasis on submarine detection and
response options and capable of independent and
task group operations. The Government has indicated
that the CEA Phased array radar, as currently being
fitted in the ASMD upgrade being undertaken by
the Anzac Ship Alliance, may be considered for this
APDR and most industry observers agree the roles
that future frigates play in the RAN will have a strong
emphasis on anti-submarine warfare. This means they
will have an integrated sonar suite including long-
range active towed-array sonar, building on maritime
combat helicopter(s) with dipping sonobuoys and
maritime optimised UAVs.
Of course they also have the usual lightweight
torepdoes, naval guns probably able to fire extended
range munitions, and serious anti-shipping missile
defences. They will be able to fire their own anti-
shipping missiles as well as conduct land attacks
using cruise missiles. To combat swarms of fast
inshore attack craft they will have a range of high
firing rate kinetic weapons.
A newer factor is that as submarine capabilities to
detect surface ships has improved, ‘stealth’ modes
with quieter propeller and propulsion engine designs
will be required.
Will any frigate design come off-the-shelf? Without
knowing how close Defence’s requirements are to
existing designs there is no way for the outsider to
know. The choice seems much more likely to be an
evolved design, based on one of Europe’s major
shipbuilding company’s models.
The leading contenders must be Blohm + Voss
(TKMS) MEKO® A-200 frigate, DCNS FREMM,
BAE Systems Type 26 Global Combat Ship with
outside chances for Navantia’s F-110 and Austal’s
Littoral Combat Ship.
A bookie setting odds on the likely Future Frigate
prime contractor, to start in 2020, would have to
cover his bets very carefully. Each of the three main
contenders has much to offer, as explained further
on in this article. A key issue they must address
is how to optimise the involvement of Australia’s
defence industry, since a continuous build program
covering SEA 1000, SEA 1180 and SEA 5000, not
to mention SEA 1654, gives the opportunity for smart
local businesses to achieve economies of scale in
All three of the major contenders are experienced
in Australian shipyard construction and are highly
regarded in most defence circles. If their partnering
plans with Australian industry show not only job
creation but also skills transfer and providing
intellectual property to support sustainment of these
new assets, then the national economic benefit will
be huge. An overseas build for any of these projects
diminishes the great opportunity currently being
A more vexing question is whether or not there
should be a single future surface combatant design.
Any future naval conflict, or the threat of it, in
Australia’s areas of interest, will require the RAN to
seamlessly operate with the US Navy and other allies.
The air warfare destroyers are obviously going to be
capable of this, but with only three of them, it does
seem that at least three of the future frigates should
also have this capability, which will not come cheaply.
It would be an expensive and almost certainly
unaffordable financial overkill for the RAN to have
all future surface combatants with this capability, so
does this mean that the frigate fleet should be split?
Although the RAN would vigorously resist
this concept, should the balance of the surface
combatants be for ASW without the expensive
coalition systems, or maybe a smaller corvette size?
For information about possible corvette options see
the SEA 1180 article in this edition.
BLOHM + VOSS (TKMS) MEKO®
TKMS are currently building four F125 Stabilisation
Frigates for the German Navy. APDR had the
opportunity to view the first one in Hamburg at the
Blohm + Voss shipyard. The F125 frigate, at 149
meters long and with a displacement of about 7,000
" Although the anti-ship missile defence (ASMD) project for the
ANZACs has been a great success and soon all of the ANZACs will
be so fitted, will this be enough for surface combatants to remain in
service out to the 2050s and beyond? "
17/09/2015 5:16 pm
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