Australia's Canberra Class LHDs
In May of 2006, "Australia Issues Official Tender for A$ 2.0B Large Amphibious Ships Program" covered Australia's decision to expand its naval expeditionary capabilities, and replace HMAS Manoora and Kanimbla with substantially larger and more capable modern designs featuring strong air support. Navantia and Tenix offered a 27,000t LHD design that resembled the Strategic Projection Ship (Buque de Proyeccion Estrategica) under construction for the Spanish Navy. The DCNS-Thales Australia team, meanwhile, proposed a variation of the 21,300t Mistral Class that is serving successfully with the French Navy.
Navantia's larger design eventually won, giving the Spanish firm an A$11 billion clean sweep of Australia's "Air Warfare Destroyer" and LHD programs. These 5 ships will be the core of Australia's future surface navy, and October 2007 has now seen multi-billion contracts signed for both sets of ships. DID does wonder, however – can the divergent figures given for the Canberra Class LHD contract be sorted out?...
The Tenix-Navantia team proposed a variation of their 27,000 tonne LHD design, which is similar to the Strategic Projection Ship (Buque de Proyeccion Estrategica) under development for the Spanish Navy. Tenix managed the RAN's ANZAC Class frigate program, and their Canberra Class LHDs will share the same Saab 9LV combat system. Navantia, meanwhile, has just been declared the winner for Austraia's $8 billion Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyer (Frigate?) program.
Australia's Kinnaird report, undertaken after the Collins Class submarine program's massive time and dollar overruns, emphasized the need to do more up-front work in order to improve cost and delivery estimates on defense projects. As a result approximately A$ 23 million was spent over 3 years on Canberra Class design studies.
The outcome was a mixed blessing: the Government was told at 1st Pass Approval that the Project was likely to cost of the order of A$ 600 – $900 million more than the allocated budget. Hence the A$ 3 billion reference, instead of the original budget figure of $2 billion. A 50% cost increase is never palatable news, and without access to the formal bids it's difficult to know if there was a significant difference between them on this score when "Australianization" and local industrial benefits requirements are included. What can be said is that knowing about the price hike before a contract is awarded, and planning accordingly, certainly beats the intense project gyrations and political fallout that would follow if the government had discovered the issues after construction was underway.
Each Canberra Class LHD ship will have the ability to transport up to 1,000 personnel, with 6 helicopter landing spots and a mix of troop lift (S-70 Blackhawk or NH90 TTH), naval (NH90 NFH) and armed reconnaissance (Eurocopter Tiger ARH) helicopters carried inside. The "ski jump" deck is also suitable for launching fixed-wing UAVs, and may also prove suitable for vertical or short takeoff fighters should a future government decide that this is necessary. By comparison, the Kanimbla Class carries 450 personnel and can accommodate only 4 helicopters.
The new Canberra Class will also be able to transport up to 150 vehicles, including the new M1A1 Abrams tank and other elements of the "Hardened and Networked Army" such as the Bushmaster IMV and the forthcoming vehicles of Project Overlander.
Like the ships they will replace, each ship will be equipped with medical facilities; their size, however, will allow these facilities to include 2 operating theaters and a hospital ward.
Construction and Program
The ships' hull from keel to flight deck will be built in Navantia's modern naval shipyard in Ferrol, Spain. DID's Spanish correspondent informs us via anonymous sources that Spain's BPE (LHD) project has experienced some schedule issues. The were rumored to stem from not having enough cranes in the shipyard to build Norway's Frijtof Nansen Class AEGIS frigates, Sapin's new F-105 Alvaro de Bazan Class AEGIS frigate, and Spain's BPE all at the same time. Word is that the delay is now solved, but it will be interesting to see whether adding 5 Australian ships to the backlog will create future issues.
Once the ships' hulls are built, they will be brought to Tenix's Williamstown shipyard in Melbourne by heavy lift ship, where the locally built superstructure (the part that rises above the flight deck) will be joined to the hull. This effort has an estimated value of up to A$ 500 million.
The majority of combat system design and integration work will take place in Adelaide, at a cost of up to A$ 100 million. There will also be further work contracted to other states, and total Australian content is expected to be about 23%, or A$ 700 million.
Australian industry will also be providing full in-service support for the life of the ships, creating a steady and reliable source of demand on industry that, over ship lifetimes of 30 years or more, usually amounts to several times the value of the construction program.
Contracts and Key Events
Oct 9/07: It's official. Australian Prime Minister John Howard announces the signing of a contract with Tenix, worth about A$ 3.1 billion ($2.787 billion) over 8 years [PM release | Event photo gallery | Tenix release | Navantia english release | Navantia Spanish release]. HMAS Canberra will be delivered in 2013, and HMAS Adelaide in 2015. Prime Minister Howard said :
"These 27,000-tonne ships will greatly enhance Australia's ability to deploy forces when necessary in our region or beyond, and to provide assistance in time of natural disaster. Using their integrated helicopters and watercraft, each vessel will be able to land approximately 1,000 personnel, along with their vehicles, the new Abrams tanks, artillery and supplies. They will also be equipped with medical facilities, including two operating theatres and a hospital ward, and will be capable across the full spectrum of maritime operations, including aid to the civil community in times of natural disaster at home or abroad."
N.B. Navantia's release sets the contract value at a divergent EUR 1.412 billion (A$ 2.22 billion), of which EUR 915 million (A$ 1.44 billion)would go to Navantia for production estimated at 9.35 million work-hours. The Spanish version of the release also describes an 80/20 work split between Spain and Australia – but even that would be an A$ 2.48 billion value to Navantia. DID chooses to accept the Australian Prime Minister's contract numbers, and previously announced Australian work split percentages of 23%, as the figures most likely to be correct. This would give Navantia the management of work and items worth A$ 2.388 billion (EUR 1.52 billion), possibly including non-Navantia components which Navantia might manage and install, but would not build. This would leave A$ 713 million in contracts to manage within Australia, which matches previous local value promises from the government.
One does wonder, however, why everyone couldn't be on the same page here, with a coherent set of cost figures and explanations. DID will pursue this matter, and hopes to be able to add clarity.
June 20/07: The Australian DoD announces a winner: subject to successful contract negotiations, the preferred tenderer is Tenix, with intended delivery of the ships between 2012 – 2014. The cost, meanwhile, has grown by 50% to A$ 3 billion. Navantia's design was larger and more capable, but unlike the French Mistral Class it did not have a previous build history. In addition to capability advantages, however, Navantia-Tenix has an additional ace card to play that DCNS-Thales Australia did not:
"So that we could ensure the best possible outcomes for Australian industry and the ADF, the Government decided to consider the Amphibious Ship and Air Warfare Destroyer proposals in concert. Our decisions today mean that for decades into the future Navy's ships will be backed by world-class industry support from Australia's naval engineering and electronics industries. They also mean that hundreds of smaller and medium enterprises can now look to the future with confidence."
See full DoD release.
- Navantia-Tenix – LHD Program bid site
- Naval Technology – Saab Systems – Naval Command and Control Systems and Weapons Systems
- DID FOCUS Article – Aussie Anti-Air Umbrella: The Hobart Class Ships
- Australia DoD (June 20/07) – $3 Billion Amphibious Ships Will Strengthen ADF, Boost Australian Industry. Cost is up by 50% to A$ 3 billion, as Navantia's larger design wins.
- Australia DoD (June 20/07) – LHD Questions & Answers [PDF format]
- Tenix (June 20/07) – Tenix, Navantia welcome Amphibious Ships decision. You'd hardly expect them to rubbish it, now would you?
- DCNS – Mistral Class LHD
- Defense News (May 28/07) – France Shows Off Amphib. Explains how France worked to keep the cost of the Mistral Class the same as its smaller predecessors, the 12,400 ton Foudre and Siroco. France spent about EUR 650 million ($875 million) for the Mistral and Tonnerre, thanks to a modular construction approach that used several shipyards and contractors to build different ship sections: DCN (prime contractor, aft part of the ships, integrated the combat system and completed the vessels in Brest; subcontracted more than half the after section to Stocznia Remontowa in Gdansk, Poland); Alstom Marine-Chantiers de l'Atlantique (fore sections including all living and most working spaces, propulsion pods); and Thales (design, radar surveillance system, communications system).
- Australia DoD (May 2/06) – Requests For Tender For $2 Billion Amphibious Ships Released To Australian Industry