A steady stream of orders are keeping Asian-Pacific warship builders busy.
Warship building is at ‘full steam’ at Asian shipyards, with heightened tensions in the region ensuring a steady stream of orders. Australia is undertaking the largest regeneration of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) since World War II. South Korea and India are well advanced with their aircraft carrier, warship and submarine building programmes. India is also proceeding with an indigenous nuclear submarine programme at great cost and will be soon be joined by Australia in this endeavour.
Defending the Realm
Under Australia’s $133 billion (AUD183 billion) Naval Shipbuilding Plan, nearly $55 billion (AUD $75 billion) will be spent on building maritime capabilities over this decade. More than 70 naval vessels are to be built in Australia by 2030, employing 15,000 workers. These warships will be built at the Western Australian Henderson maritime precent and the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia.
Since the 2016 Defence White Paper, as of 2021, eight ships were under construction in Henderson in addition to the same number of vessels that had already been built. Henderson is involved in the manufacture of three classes of vessels; 21 Guardian-class vessels, 10 of the 12 Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels and six Evolved Cape-class vessels.
Amongst the most important of these programmes is the SEA 5000 Phase 1 Hunter Class Frigate programme, which is one of the RAN’s high priority programmes. It is second only to the SEA 1000 Attack-class submarine project. Nine advanced Hunter Class Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) frigates will be built for the RAN at the Osborne shipyard in Adelaide, over a decades long programme. The new warships are the most advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates ever to be built in Australia and will replace the Anzac Class.
“The actual construction phase of the Hunter programme is scheduled to commence by the end of 2022, with prime contractor BAE Systems Maritime Australia, a subsidiary of BAE Systems, already supporting Australian jobs,” Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group’s first assistant secretary ships Sheryl Lutz said in January this year. By 2030, the shipbuilding workforce for the new warships is to grow to over 2,000 people at Osborne.The prototyping phase of the programme is slated to end in 2023. The frigates are being built in batches of three, with the last batch due to completed and released into service well into the 2040s.
The RAN’s current Armidale and Cape class patrol boats are due to be replaced by 12 Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV). The programme is considered as one of the foundational projects in the 2017 Naval Shipbuilding Plan. HMAS Arafura, the first of the class was launched at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in December 2021. The 12 Arafura Class OPVs have been contracted to Luerssen Australia and two of the 80-metre long OPVs will be built at the Osborne Naval Shipyard. The remaining ten vessels will be built at Henderson Maritime Precinct and all vessels feature state-of-the art sensors and command and communications systems.
“The Arafura class OPVs represent the future of Australia’s border protection and will be the primary asset for maritime patrol and response duties,” Australia’s Minister Defence Peter Dutton said at the launch of the first vessel. The new OPVs will primarily undertake constabulary missions and maritime patrol and response duties. The Arafura Class OPVs will have a displacement of just over 1,600 tonnes, making them larger and more capable than the existing Armidale Class.
A variant of these new OPV is also be considered to meet a requirement for new mine countermeasures and survey vessels, known as project SEA 1905 Phase 1. These vessels will replace the RAN’s current Huon-class vessels, which has been brought forward from the mid 2030s to the mid 2020s. The new ships will be constructed at the Henderson precinct.
The RAN commissioned the second of the Supply Class Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment (AOR) ships, HMAS Stalwart in November last year at Fleet Base West, Rockingham, Western Australia. HMAS Supply was commissioned in April 2021. The Supply Class will sustain the ADF with fuel, water, food, ammunition, and a variety of cargo for extended periods. HMAS Stalwart will operate out of Fleet Base West in Western Australia, while her sister ship, HMAS Supply, is based at Fleet Base East, New South Wales. Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan said that the new ships represented a generational shift from the capability provided by previous support ships due to their combat management system that improves information sharing with other ADF and allied assets. The new replenishment ships can carry larger volumes of fuel, operate in a wider range of sea states and environmental conditions and support smaller ships. The AORs were built by Navantia in Spain.
South Korea has also emerged as a warship building powerhouse in the region with two major naval shipbuilders in Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) and Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI). South Korea approved the production its first indigenous aircraft carrier at an estimated cost of $1.8 billion, last February. The CVX programme is an effort to indigenously manufacture a conventionally powered 30,000 tonne, 265m long light aircraft carrier. Renderings of the CVX from by the Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN) show that it will have a twin-island design.
Service entry is slated for 2033 and the CVX will have an airborne complement of an F-35B Vertical Take-Off And Landing (VTOL) 5th generation fighter jets along with AW159 and MH-60R helicopters. DSME partnered with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri last year to assist in the CVX’s conceptual design. DSME will gain from Fincantieri’s work on its Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ‘Trieste,’ being built for the Italian Navy and due for delivery this year. HHI has partnered with Babcock of the UK for assistance on conceptual design and has inked MoUs with Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) and LIG Nex1 for work on the programme and is expected to enter into an agreement with Hanwha Systems for the CVX’s CMS.
Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has completed the upgrade of the Republic of Korea Navy’s (RoKN) three KDX-I Destroyers at Jinhae Naval Base in Gyeongnam. The upgrade effort which began in September 2016, resulted in three upgraded destroyers – Yang Manchun, wanggaeto Daewang and Eulji Mundeok, delivered in September 2020, October 2021 and December 2021 respectively. An upgrade of the ROKN’s Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships will also be considered for an upgrade in the future.
DAPA has installed a new Combat Management System (CMS) and sensors on the upgraded KDX-I warships. The indigenous CMS replace earlier ones on these warships, which were imported, and deliver improved performance while lowering operating and maintenance costs. “In addition, the underwater target detection and tracking performance has been significantly increased by replacing it with the newest example of a ship array, the Towed Array Sonar System (TASS), in order to improve the ability to respond to submarines,” a DAPA statement informed.
DSME started construction of second submarine of the Jang Bogo-ⅢClass Batch-II in December 2021. The 3,000 tonne class submarine is slated to be ready by 2026, with delivery to the RoKN due in 2028. The RoKN will receive a total of five new 3,000-ton class Jang Bogo-Ⅲ class Batch-II submarines, which are larger than the Jang Bogo-Ⅲ class Batch-I (delivered to the RokN in August 2021). The new submarines will also carry more weapons and have an improved combat and sonar system. According to DAPA, the Jang Bogo-Ⅲ class Batch-II submarines are only the second in the world to be equipped with lithium batteries among 3,000-ton class submarines, conferring them with a higher level of stealth and underwater operation capability. The new submarines also feature a high localization rate of 80%.
HHI launched the 7th new FFX (Frigate eXperimental) Batch-II warship ‘Cheonan’, in November 2021. The 2,800 tonne Cheonan is slated for induction into the RoKN in 2023 after completion of trials. The first in class vessel, Daegu was delivered by HHI in 2018. Also known as the Ulsan-class Batch-II, the other five FFX Batch-II warships are, Gyeongnam, Seoul, Donghae, Daejeon and Pohang. The new frigates offer significantly enhanced ASW capabilities, with the ability to detect submarines from a long distance by mounting a fixed hull mounted sonar as well as a tugboat array sonar system. The 122 m long guided missile frigates are powered by a hybrid electric propulsion system using a gas turbine and propulsion motor. These new frigates will replace the RoKN’s existing 1,500-ton class frigates and 1,000-ton class corvettes which are in service.
Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction launched its high-speed landing craft (LSF-II) in December in Busan. It is slated for operational deployment in 2023. According to Major Kim Gye-hwan (Major), Commander of the 1st Marine Division, said the new high-speed amphibious craft would help, the amphibious forces make a safe landings and enable division-level high-speed amphibious operations. The 28 m long landing craft has a displacement of 100 tonne and will be able to carry troops, tanks and armoured vehicles. It will be able to attain an average speed of 40 knots.
Sea trials of the RoKN’s new minesweeper Namhae built as part of Korea’s second minesweeper project. The vessel which was launched in April 2020, has a displacement of 700 tone and is 60 m long. “The Namhae ship will have improved mine-searching and clearing capabilities compared to the existing mine-sweeping ships, and will become a strong support for protecting Korea’s major ports and maritime traffic routes,” said Geuk-cheol Bang, a high-ranking official.
Korean shipyards have now gained considerable experience in special shipbuilding, mine search and mine clearing and will also look to export this new class of minesweepers. In addition to mine detection and removal capabilities it will also be able to undertake undersea intelligence. The second and third minesweepers, ‘Hongseong’ and ‘Goseong’ are undergoing sea trials.
Quest for Self-Reliance
India’s warship building is one of the success in its longstanding quest for defence indigenisation. An indication of the progress made could be gauged at the President’s Fleet Review (PFR) of the navy in February, where 47 out the 60 ships and submarines participating were built in Indian shipyards. These included the stealth destroyer INS Visakhapatnam and INS Vela, a Kalvari class submarine which were recently commissioned into the Indian Navy recently along with INS Chennai, Delhi, Teg, three Shivalik class frigates and three Kamorta class Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Corvettes. Approximately 35 warships and submarines presently under various stages of construction in different Indian shipyards within the country.
State owned Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd. (MDL) remains one of India’s leading naval shipbuilders manufacturing submarines and warships. The first Project 15B destroyer (P15B) built by MDL was commissioned into service in November last year as INS Visakhapatnam and marked the formal induction of the new class of four ships. The four warships are named the Indian cities Visakhapatnam, Mormugao, Imphal and Surat. The second indigenous P15B Class stealth destroyer ‘Mormugao’ is slated is due to be commissioned in the next few months and is undergoing sea trials.
The contract for four P15B destroyers was inked with MDL in January 2011 and the new warships are a follow-on to the Kolkata class (Project 15A) destroyers commissioned in the previous decade. The P15B warships largely retain the hull form, propulsion machinery, much of the platform equipment and major weapons and sensors from the Kolkata Class. The warships are fitted with DRDO-IAI developed Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missiles (MR-SAM), BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles and a 76mm gun. INS Visakhapatnam is also the first Indian warship to receive the new ‘Shakti’ Electronic Warfare (EW) system developed by DRDO. The new EW system will be installed on-board warships under production, including P-15B, P-17A, follow-on Talwar Class and is also being installed on-board the carrier. Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has received a production order worth Rs18 billion (approximately US$250 million) for 12 Shakti EW systems. The 163m long destroyers have a displacement of 7,400 tonnes and uses a Combined Gas and Gas (COGAG) powerplant configuration and can attain speeds in excess of 30 knots. The warships have a complement of 315 sailors.
MDL last received an order to build submarines in 2005 and the endemic delays that plague Indian defence procurement can be gauged from the fact that, delivery of the 6th and final Scorpene submarine contracted for, is yet to take place. A total of six submarines were to be built by MDL under a $3.75 billion contract signed with French shipbuilder Naval Group (then known as DCNS) in 2005. These Scorpene Class submarines, being built under a Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreement with Naval Group are known as the ‘Kalvari’ Class in the Indian Navy. Four submarines have been commissioned into service: INS Kalvari, INS Khanderi, INS Karanj and INS Vela, with the latter two commissioned into service in 2021. The fifth submarine commenced her sea trials in February and will be commissioned into the navy, later this year as INS Vagir. The Scorpene is a stealthy and fast conventional-propulsion submarine designed and developed by Naval Group, which has sold 14 of them to international customers. The conventional attack submarines (SSK) are highly automated, reducing crew requirements and having six weapon launching tubes that can carry 18 weapons of different types such as torpedoes, missiles, and mines.
India’s Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 1 (IAC-1) being built by Cochin Shipyard Limited and is scheduled to be commissioned as INS Vikrant later this year. The largest and most complex warship ever to be built in India and has seen its cost balloon to nearly INR200 billion (approximately US$2.5 billion) for a project originally sanctioned in May 1999. IAC-1 completed her first sea trial in August last year and undertook her maiden flight trials in October-November the same year. The aircraft is slated to be commissioned into service as INS Vikrant on August 15 this year, which is also India’s Independence Day.
Project approval for construction of the indigenous Carrier had been accorded by the Cabinet Committee on Security in May 1999. According to the Navy’s Fleet Doctrine, aircraft carriers are central to its operational requirements as it is the only means of ensuring air defence at sea. The Indian Navy commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the 19,500 tonne INS Vikrant in March 1961. INS Vikrant (ex HMS Hercules) was acquired from the UK in 1957. INS Viraat, the navy’s second aircraft carrier was originally commissioned in 1959 as the UK Royal Navy’s HMS Hermes. The 28,700 tone carrier was refurbished and transferred to India in 1987. The navy’s third carrier INS Vikramaditya (erstwhile Admiral Gorshkov) commissioned into the Navy in November 2013 and is now its only operational carrier operating MiG-29K/KUB aircraft as its fighter complement.
Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has now thrown up a problem for the Indian Navy, as its P1135.6 Class (Krivak III) warships on order from the former, use the latter’s Zorya gas turbines. India and Russia had inked an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for two of Project 1135.6 warships to be built in Russia and two more to be built in India by Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL). The newest of these warships Tushil was launched in October last year. Sourcing engines and spares for the existing fleet of Ukraininan gas turbines for the Indian fleet could now prove problematic and requires deft handling of the situation.
by Mike Rajkumar