Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR October 2015 Contents SEA 1180
GEOFF SLOCOMBE // VICTORIA
SEA 1180 EMERGES
BUT CLARITY NEEDED ON REQUIREMENTS
What has happened to Government’s mindset since the 2013 Defence White Paper killed off this Offshore Combatant Vessel
(OCV) Project to replace four classes of small RAN vessels with a single class of twenty OCV, using swappable modules to change
Could the Government be desperately trying
to regain electoral popularity in South
Australia by its announcement there on
4 August 2015 of major shipbuilding projects?
The joint Prime Minister and Defence Minister’s
press release stated “Commonwealth Government
is delivering a long-term plan for a strong and
sustainable naval shipbuilding industry. Over the next
20 years the Government will invest over $89 billion
in ships and submarines for the Navy.
“This critical investment will generate significant
economic growth and sustain several thousand
Australian jobs over decades. It is a key part of our
commitment to a safe and secure Australia.
“The Government will implement a continuous
build of surface warships in Australia. This means that
Australia’s shipbuilding workforce will build Navy’s
Future Frigates and Offshore Patrol Vessels.”
Straight away one can see a difficulty. In their press
release they talk about Offshore Patrol Vessels, not
OCVs as in the original SEA 1180 concept. The
former Prime Minister further revealed his lack of naval
knowledge by saying in a doorstep interview at Austal,
Henderson WA on 21 August 2015 “We've brought
forward the Offshore Patrol Vessels or Corvettes to
2018. We’ve brought forward the frigates to 2020,
we’ve brought forward the Corvettes by two years,
we’ve brought forward the frigates by three years.”
He thinks OPVs and Corvettes are the same type of
vessel. Not so, even if they are apparently the same
length and displacement.
Although it will seem like semantics, the difference
is vital. A modern corvette is a warship, smaller
in size than a frigate, but usually equipped with a
naval gun, self-defence weapons, offensive missiles,
anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and can carry
a medium-size maritime combat helicopter. It has
a warship’s naval design and construction which
allows it to take some damaging hits and continue
An offshore patrol vessel is built to commercial,
rather than naval, standards and tends to be lightly
armed. It is not intended or built to go into serious
In studying mission capability requirements and
dusting off previously researched potential designs
for SEA 1180, Defence’s project team would have
considered the examples of the Royal Canadian
Navy Halifax Class, the Royal Danish Navy’s StanFlex
vessels, and the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.
In each of these instances, swappable modules
change the standard vessel’s mission fitout. The
time taken to change modules varies between these
navies, but the underlying logic of a standard hull and
platform systems, operated by a base crew offers
cost, maintenance and logistics economies of scale.
Specialist module operators come on board at the
same time as the modules.
So what is happening with the replacements for
the Armidale Class Patrol Boats, now from seven
to ten years old, which have been worked far
harder than originally envisaged and suffered some
structural engineering problems as a consequence?
And replacements/upgrades for the RAN’s other
small specialist vessels – the Huon Minehunter
Coastal Class, the Leeuwin Class AGS Surveying
Ships and Paluma Class Motor Survey Launches?
In a ‘watch this space’ comment, a Defence
spokesperson told APDR “The Force Structure
Review is considering a wide range of Defence
capabilities in developing options for the future force.
The outcomes of the Government’s consideration
of the Force Structure Review will become publicly
available through Defence White Paper 2015 and the
associated public Defence Capability Plan“.
OPTIONS FOR SEA 1180 VESSELS
In the original SEA 1180 OCV concept, Defence’s
then Capability Development Group sought a naval
platform which has the ability to switch mission
modules, dependent on tasking. They required the
OCV to possess survivability in ‘low end’ tasks in the
littoral environment, which could be anywhere within
Australia’s areas of interest.
With a Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP)
due to start in October this year, it is quite possible
that the idea of swappable modules will be retained.
In this case it is likely that meeting CEP capability
requirements could involve contenders configuring
up to four different designs.
They could start from a modular common hull,
which couldn’t undertake tasking without appropriate
modules added. Next a baseline configuration
equipped for patrol with mine countermeasures,
rapid environmental assessment and hydrography
modules able to be added depending on tasking.
A third design could involve three different baseline
configurations covering patrol, mine countermeasures
and hydrography with the possibility of adding extra
modules for specialist functions. Finally, although
a common core of systems and equipment like
navigation, weapons and propulsion system could be
chosen, different hull sizes could be built to suit the
Right now there is no publicly released clarity
about what Defence will be looking for in their SEA
1180 CEP. Why should this be, when billions of
taxpayer dollars are involved?
All Federal Governments, of either persuasion,
have strictly limited funding for Defence and no
sensible person expects it to be otherwise, given
the other worthy claims on the Government’s purse.
However, a cynical observer would conclude that the
Prime Minister’s August announcement of $89 billion
for naval shipbuilding, a figure seemingly plucked out
of the air, has more to do with their dismal re-election
prospects in South Australia than important national
32 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter OCT 2015
32 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter OCT 2015
17/09/2015 5:19 pm
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