Shipbuilding Underway Down Under

Australia’s plan to ramp-up sovereign shipbuilding gathers pace.

The Australian Marine Complex at Henderson
The Australian Marine Complex at Henderson in Western Australia. The yard does all the sustainment of the Collins-class submarines apart from Full Cycle Docking periods and supports the Anzac-class frigates. It is likely to be the next shipyard to get an upgrade.

Published in the July/August 2020 Issue – Australia has ambitious plans for the construction of new anti-submarine warfare frigates and diesel-electric submarines that will modernise Royal Australian Navy (RAN) capabilities in the next decade. In order to deliver these platforms the government has devoted $680 million (A$1 billion) in its Naval Shipbuilding Plan to build two new shipyards at Osborne, South Australia.

These will give Australia a sovereign shipbuilding capability to produce both frigates and submarines in Australia. Australian Naval Infrastructure (ANI) is the organisation – created in 2017 – mandated to develop, own and operate new shipyards that will achieve this task.

The first shipyard at Osborne South has been completed and is to be handed over to prime contractor BAE Systems on 1 July. The company will run the shipyard under license to build the nine new Hunter-class frigates. The second shipyard at Osborne North is still under development and will eventually be used by Naval Group to build 12 new Attack-class submarines.

Andrew Seaton, CEO of ANI, told Asian Military Review that there are ‘different approaches’ to the construction of the North and South facilities.

He said that Osborne South was designed by Odense Maritime Technology as a ‘generic’ shipyard built by construction company LendLease. This means that it can not only build the Hunter-class but also future warships up to destroyer size with a maximum 170 metre length and 10,000 tonnes displacement. “BAE were told what shipyard they would be given, but around the edges like the pipe shop we have worked with BAE to make sure the flow of materials meets their requirements,” Seaton explained.

“The new yard is a standalone yard and will ultimately be integrated into the existing yard. The Hunter-class frigates and new Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels will coexist for a time in the existing yard until the OPVs are finished – maybe by the end of 2023 – and then Hunter will effectively license the whole of the yard from us,” Seaton explained.

“All the equipment is in there and is being set to work. It is really for BAE to come in and familiarise themselves with the facility and begin training so we will have  the original equipment manufacturers come back and train the BAE workforce to begin prototyping in December this year,” he added.

The new yard is located next to the existing ASC Shipbuilding yard at Osborne South which built the RAN’s Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWDs) that were completed in March.It is now building two of the 12 new Arafura-class OPVs. Seaton said that not all of the $363 million (A$535 million) for the Osborne South project was spent and the remainder would be used to modernise some facilities at ASC.

The new shipyard at Osborne South
The new shipyard at Osborne South consists of a large new ship assembly shed (seen on the left), block assembly hall (in the centre) and a steel fabrication and unit assembly hall (on the right).

A BAE spokesperson told AMR that the existing construction halls, currently being utilised for the OPV programme, will be modernised in the next phase of the redevelopment project. “When combined with the five new buildings and associated infrastructure, this will create a seamless facility where design, manufacture, outfit, consolidation, and test and activation can take place,” they added.

Unlike the earlier AWD construction programme, which assembled ship blocks that were built around the country, the new shipyard is vertically integrated meaning ‘steel in, ships out’ with the capability to build all the ship blocks itself, assemble them and launch the vessel.

Phased Approach

Seaton said the site at Osborne North is being built to a ‘bespoke design’ using a phased approach that is “progressing the design of the yard with the capability of the submarine itself.” The design is yet to be finalised but it involves Naval Group, ANI, Lockheed Martin, the Commonwealth and construction firm Laing O’Rourke under an integrated project team arrangement.

The final design of the new Osborne North shipyard will be depend on Naval Group’s construction methodology for the Attack-class submarines. Initial buildings under Phase 1 are under construction and will be followed by a second main phase.

“It is a staged construction schedule so as each part is completed the facilities are handed over to Lockheed Martin and Naval Group. Concurrently with what is happening [under Phase 1] the planning and design for Phase 2 is also underway. Phase 2 is the main production facility and the support systems for that, which is happening as the building of two buildings under Phase 1 are underway now,” Seaton explained.

A spokesperson from Naval Group told AMR that it is continuing to work with ANI on the design of the Submarine Construction Yard and the implementation of manufacturing systems. “The construction halls, blast and paint workshop, warehousing and other facilities for the Future Submarine Construction Yard in Osborne are expected to begin to take shape onsite from this year,” the spokesperson said.

The total amount identified by the Naval Shipbuilding Plan for the construction of both yards was $680 million but the final bill for the construction of the Osborne North yard has yet to be publicly announced.

As in the South, there is also an existing ASC shipyard at Osborne North which conducts Full Cycle Docking maintenance on the RAN’s six Collins-class submarines. A decision is yet to be taken by the government about whether the operations of this facility will move to Western Australia.

“At the moment everything we are designing and building will have flexibility awaiting that decision,” Seaton said. “If Collins’ sustainment stays in in Adelaide we will stay with ASC as a tenant here as well as Naval Group. If Collins sustainment moves to Perth then ASC will still have a presence here in some form or another but we will integrate the yards,” he explained.

Meanwhile the Australian Marine Complex in the Henderson Precinct south of Perth in WA could be set for an upgrade should ASC’s Collins Full Cycle Docking facility move there. Seaton said that ANI already owns some assets in Henderson and although it does not have sight of future plans just yet, if there is new shipyard capabilities required there “then the expectation is that ANI would become involved.”

by Tim Fish