At stake is an A$35 billion order for 8 or 9 SEA Future Frigate (FF) to be built in Adelaide, South Australia, under the SEA5000 program. In addition, New Zealand might also join the program at a later stage to replace its own two ANZAC-class frigates, further adding to the stake.
The two ships are the Italian Navy’s Carabiniere (F 593), a recently-commissioned Fregata Europea Multi-Missione (FREMM), and the Spanish Navy frigate Cristobal Colon (F 105), standing in for an upgraded and redesigned version of Navantia’s Álvaro de Bazán F100-class frigate that is still on the drawing board.
Italy and Spain both hope seeing and touching their ships will help Australia decide whether to continue with its primarily Spanish-designed navy, or instead to switch to a more modern French-Italian design, for a new class of frigates which will, in fact, be as large as destroyers.
While Italy and Spain are both sending in-service ships on Australian demonstration tours, the third short-listed contender, Britain’s BAE Systems, cannot because its proposed Type 26 frigate – which it calls Global Combat Ship on the hope it will be exported to many countries -- is still in the design stage. Instead, BAE said it would “use the latest in modern digital planning capability to refine and tailor its designs” to Australian requirements, and ship “a 3-dimensional visualization suite to help improve understanding of the unique features of the ship design.”
In addition to these three competitors left standing when Australia published its short-list last April, two other bidders, DCNS of France – which also offered the FREMM deign it co-developed with Fincantieri -- and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), were eliminated.
The Future Frigate program’s schedule calls for selection of the winning design in 2018; first steel is due to be cut in 2020, and the first ship is expected to reach Initial Operating Capability in late 2026.
In the meantime, all three shortlisted shipyards on September 1, 2016 signed contracts with the Australian government to participate in the Competitive Evaluation Process conducted by the Department of Defence for the FF program.
Australia’s A$65 Billion Shipbuilding Plan
The Future Frigate program is just one component of Australia’s huge plan to reinforce and upgrade its naval capabilities. Australia has just completed building two large Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) amphibious ships, HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Canberra, is currently building three Air Warfare Destroyers (one is working up, one was launched in December and the third one is due to follow in XX), as well as two Cantabria-class logistic support ships, all to designs developed by Spain’s Navantia shipyards group.
Last year, Australia selected France’s DCNS shipyards as the preferred contractor to build 12 Shortfin Barracuda diesel-electric submarines in an A$50 billion program. Also in the works is a A$3 billion program to build 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels, for which Damen of the Netherlands has been short-listed in competition with two German ship designers, Fassmer and Lürsssen. In fact, given the increase in the number of ships, finding, training and retaining enough sailors to man them might well become the RAN’s major long-term headache.
Having had its fingers badly burned with the Collins-class submarines and other, over-ambitious procurement programs, the Royal Australian Navy wants its new frigates to be Military Off-The-Shelf (MOTS) designs, possibly Australianised, but has formally excluded buying a new design.
That explains the Spanish and Italian shipyards’ eagerness to sail their ships to Australia, where all stakeholders will be able to see and to touch them, in distinct contrast to BAE, whose Type 26 still only exists as computer-generated images.
Italian Navy’s F 593 Carabiniere
Carabiniere will cover about 20,000 nautical miles on her Australian demo tour, but she won’t circumnavigate the globe, as will her Spanish competitor. Carabiniere sailed from her home port of La Spezia on Dec. 20, and on Dec. 27 arrived in Jeddah, on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, where she stayed until Jan. 1. She then sailed to Colombo, in Sri Lanka, arriving Jan. 11 for a three-day stay.
The Italian navy’s fourth FREMM frigate, Carabiniere is fitted out in ASW configuration with the latest, state-of-the-art sensors and weapons, and was commissioned in April 2015. The FREMM class of frigates was jointly developed by France (DCNS) and Italy (Fincantieri) to replace both countries’ major surface combatants.
Carabiniere is due to arrive in Fremantle, Western Australia, on Jan 25 for an initial week-long stop (Jan 25-31), continuing on to Adelaide (Feb 5-10), Sydney (Feb 14-19) and Melbourne Feb 21-24). She also will make other port calls during her cruise:
-- Jakarta (Indonesia): March 9-13;
-- Singapore: March 15-19;
-- Langkawi (Malaysia): March 20-26;
-- Karachi (Pakistan): April 5-9;
-- Muscat (Oman): April 11-15.
Subsequently, the ship will either continue her promotional cruise in the Persian Gulf, with port calls in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, or she might deploy on anti-piracy patrol between the Horn of Africa and Pakistan; the final decision will be taken this spring.
“The aim of [our] Southeast Asia and Australia tour is to strengthen our relations with allies, build naval diplomacy and exchange the know-how of Italian manufacturing and technology,” Carabiniere’s Commanding Officer, Commander Francesco Pagnotta, said during the stopover in Jeddah.
The ship’s stopover in Malaysia is scheduled to coincide with the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2017 (March 21-25), the largest defense trade show in South East Asia.
Guido Crosetto, the head of Italian aerospace and defense industry group AIAD, told Defense News Dec 16 that Fincantieri has the advantage over its competitors. “Of the rival vessels, one is still an idea the other is a project,” he said, adding “The Australian Navy prefers the Italian offering.” Fincantieri opened an office in Canberra in mid-December.
During this marketing cruise in South East Asia and in Australia, Carabiniere will show the flag, and take part in surface patrols, cooperate with regional allies, and weave new links with other navies, according to Italian navy press releases about the event.
In addition to the navy, Carabiniere’s cruise is sponsored by Fincantieri and Italy’s main defense contractors, including Leonardo, MBDA Italia, Elettronica and Telespazio.
Spanish Navy’s F 105 Cristobal Colon
The Spanish navy describes its F105 frigate’s seven-month cruise, which will include 120 days in Australian waters, as a result of the bilateral agreement between the two navies “on the employment of ships, units and the capabilities of each signatory to support deployments, missions and activities undertaken by the other.”
In addition to demonstrating the ship’s potential, the cruise will also “highlight logistical support and maintenance mechanisms during an extended period of high activity at a great distance from national territory,” the Navy said in a Jan. 9 press release.
The Spanish navy’s F 105 class of frigates has already been used as the basis of Australia’s new Air Warfare Destroyers, and shipbuilder Navantia now is offering a redesigned version as the basis for the RAN’s Future Frigates. (Spanish Navy photo)
Cristobal Colon is the fifth and final Alvaro de Bazan-class frigate. She sailed from La Coruna, her home port in north-western Spain, on January 9, and also stopped over for two days (Jan 20-21) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Navantia is hoping to win a contract for five corvettes, and a new naval base to house them. Fincantieri and France’s DCNS are also hoping to compete for this contract.
"This deployment is another example of the Navy's support for the national defense industry. The deployment of the Cristóbal Colón frigate to Australia for 120 days will improve Navantia's position in the programs in which our national company is competing in Australia," Spanish military sources told the daily ABC, adding “And all this without incurring additional costs, or reducing the operational capabilities of our Navy.”
In Australia, the ship will take part in three major RAN exercises on Australia’s eastern and western coasts: “Ocean Explorer,” “Sea Explorer” and “Sea Raider,” during which Colon will host Australian sailors and other defense personnel to demonstrate her operational capabilities.
This is not the first time that the Spanish Navy sends its ships on marketing trips to Australia. In addition to Alvaro de Bazan, whose visit helped Navantia win the AWD contract, Spain four years ago also loaned its logistic support ship Cantabria to the RAN for nine months. This helped Navantia beat the South Korean Daewoo shipyard for a two-ship Australian contract it signed last May; the two Cantabria-class ships will be built at Ferrol, in Spain, and delivered in 2019 and 2020.
Navantia is already working to refine its FF offer, which it expects to submit in July; the winning shipyard will be announced in mid-2018, and the ships will be built in Adelaide, South Australia.
For the Future Frigate program, the Spanish company is counting on the ten-year partnership it has established with the RAN beginning in 2007, when Navantia won the contract for the two LHDs, derived from the Spanish navy’s own Juan Carlos I, and the subsequent order for the three Air Warfare Destroyers, which were preferred to competing designs from the UK and the United States.
“By its volume, relevance and international significance, Australia’s SEA 5000 Project has great implications for Navantia. It is a very demanding process which will require the greatest possible institutional support from the State,” Francisco Baron, director of Navantia Australia, told Spanish reporters late last year.
This support is primarily demonstrated by Colon’s seven-month availability for this marketing cruise. On its way to Australia, Cristobal Colon will make several stops to promote Spanish naval shipbuilding and its products.
After Jeddah, she will then continue to Bombay (India) and Singapore, both of which have shipbuilding programs in which Navantia wants to compete, and on its return leg Colon will cross the Pacific, with stop-overs in Papeete (Tahiti), Callao (Peru) and Cartagena (Colombia), thus completing its circumnavigation of the globe before returning to La Coruna in early August.