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But it is one of the decision points along the way that is now under the spotlight.
The Minister announced that in early 2013 the Government would make a decision
on the combat systems, torpedos, sensors and other weapons systems. Three
months later “early lock-in” to the Combat System has been challenged by the
powerful cross-party Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee,
in their report of an enquiry into Procurement procedures for Defence Capital
Projects. The report has recommended that Defence “avoid early lock-in through
premature weapons systems choices”.
Why would Defence want to take the “early lock-in” path announced? Why does
Defence think this is a good approach and why has a bipartisan Senate committee
specifically recommended against it. Is it not a well thought out idea?
WRAP A VESSEL AROUND THE MISSION SYSTEM
The current SEA 1000 acquisition strategy appears to be one of “selecting a
combat system and then wrapping a vessel around it”. This approach is not, at first
glance, without precedence. Indeed, it appears to have been the model adopted in
Australia’s Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) program.
It is therefore instructive to examine the AWD story (and rationale).
The idea of an AWD was first seriously floated in the 2000 Defence White
Paper. In its section on Maritime Warfare it stated “... the FFGs are planned to be
replaced when they are decommissioned from 2013 by a new class of at least three
air-defence capable ships. It is expected that these ships will be significantly larger
and more capable than the FFGs”. The AWD program, SEA 4000, subsequently
appeared in the 2001 Defence Capability Plan as a project seeking to “provide the
Australian Defence Force (ADF) with an affordable Maritime Air Warfare capability
as a complementary part of a comprehensive, layered air defence capability for the
Ships that were initial contenders for the AWD solution included the British Type
45, Dutch LCF, the German F-124, the Spanish F-100 and a second hand US Kidd
But it was to be the combat system that guided the platform selection.
From the very outset the Aegis system and its accompanying SPY-1D S Band
radar were of great interest to Defence. AEGIS was an evolving combat system
that was becoming the combat system of choice for AWDs around the world and
it was compatible with the desired SM2 and ESSM missiles. There were a number
of other perceived benefits with the system.
Perhaps the most important of these was interoperability. First and foremost
in this capability, the Aegis Command and Decision System offered the RAN a
Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC). CEC enables warships to share
sensor and track data with every ship in a battle group such that each platform
can engage targets at their maximum intercept range. It gives the battle group
commander an umbrella to protect all the ships and aircraft in the battle group.
From an interoperability perspective Aegis also allowed for the sharing of tactics
and mitigation against “blue on blue” engagements when operating with similarly
Aegis had been in service in the USN for many years (i.e . MOTS), was earmarked
for use in ships of the Korean, Japanese, Norwegian and Spanish navies, was
evolvable and was likely to stay in service for the entire life of the Australian AWD.
The selection of Aegis would also provide commonality (non-orphan) advantages in
the areas of spares and supportability, assisting with cost of ownership.
With that in mind the sequence went as follows.
In early March 2004 the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill, announced
that Australia and the United States had reached an agreement that aimed to
significantly assist the RAN in the development of options for its new AWDs. The
agreement was modelled on the 2001 submarine “Statement of Principles”, under
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