The Australian Surface Fleet Dilemma & Tier 2

The Australian Surface Fleet Dilemma & Tier 2 - Merchant Navy Info - News

The Australian Government released its long-awaited response on 20 February. Outlining its intentions to modernize and expand the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) surface fleet. The announcement itself followed the original Defense Strategic Review (DSR) published in May 2023. The former DSR abstained from making recommendations to address the challenges facing the Royal Australian Navy. Instead, the review left this decision at the Government’s discretion, based on the results of an independent analysis by RAN. Canberra received the report of this independent analysis on 29 September  2023. 

Tier 2 is a new attempt to replace the ANZAC class. 

Essentially, the Government sought to address concerns about the recapitalization of the eight powerful ANZAC-class. Vessels that entered service in the 1990s. The ANZAC class is based on Germany’s original design of her TKMS MEKO 200. Emerged in response to her RAN’s need for an affordable multipurpose frigate. And was manufactured in collaboration with New Zealand. The effort, known as SEA 5000 Phase 1, began with the Hunter-class frigate, which was previously intended as a replacement for the  ANZAC. However, this program faces issues of affordability, complexity, and timescale. Hunter began looking for a more capable, multi-role replacement for the ANZAC class. After all, this program primarily serves as a template for all the mistakes that should be avoided in this regard.

Tier 2 Roles and Candidate Designs 

The specific Tier 2 directions currently sought by the Australian Government, subject to independent review, are: The RAN is based on the IR Recommendations for Construction; “Acquire at least 11 new general purpose combatants” Seven ships, ideally 11-inch hulls. Importantly, the acquisition was completed “quickly,” combining initial construction overseas with subsequent on-site construction in Henderson, Washington. The new design is “optimized for underwater warfare, operating alone and in conjunction with  Tier 1 ships, securing maritime trade routes and northern approaches, and escorting military assets.” So the general concept is Equivalent to her ANZAC successor.

Basic task terminology

However, things get a little more complicated when it comes to detailed features that are considered “must-haves.

  1. Operating a maritime helicopter.
  2. Towed sonar and light torpedo operations.
  3. The number of air defence points and self-defence systems is limited.
  4. Sea and land strikes.
  5. Forced protection.

Japanese Perspectives and Superlatives 

Australian commentary on this document soon focused specifically on superlatives. This instinct is understandable given that Canberra and Tokyo have stepped up efforts to improve their security relationship. This cooperation included the signing of relevant documents on military and industrial cooperation. There is also historical precedent for such a decision. Observers will remember former prime minister Tony Abbott’s controversial push for fast track. 

During his tenure, Mr. Abbott tried to pursue his personal preferences for Soryu-class submarines and design adaptation to the RAN but succumbed to pressure to launch a broader tender for the corresponding SEA 1000 program. In this context, the Mogami, as a mass-produced, advanced frigate, appears well suited to solving Australia’s surface fleet dilemma. However, upon closer inspection, some important caveats about the stringent Australian requirements compared to the Japanese design quickly become apparent.

Designed and realized by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

The Mogami fighter is an affordable anti-submarine fighter and general patrol fighter with a standard payload of approximately 3,900 tons and a maximum displacement of 5,500 tons. Japan originally planned to produce more than 20 hulls to replace older escort destroyers or, by modern standards, light frigates. Mogami is a custom-made Japanese design that integrates the complete Japanese combat management system “CMS.”

Indigenous weapons and sensor management

The only significant foreign weapons are his American Mk 45  gun and his CIWS SeaRAM missile. Additionally, this design can accommodate his 16-cell Mk 41 VLS. The first six hulls are not equipped with VLS and will be retrofitted at a later date. According to the latest plans, hulls 7 and 8, currently under construction, will undergo the integration of her VLS before commissioning.  Even if Mogami were to carry her VLS, her primary role as an ASW frigate would not include the  integration of VLS-launched SAMs, as currently intended. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will instead transfer its enhanced air defence capabilities to a larger and more capable successor to the Mogami, now known as the New FFM. This decision leaves SeaRAM as the primary air defence point defence weapon in design.

It remains to be seen how such functionality would meet the Australian Tier 2 requirements mentioned above. It certainly seems like a step back from ANZAC, which can use ESSM. Obviously, additional cost and effort will be required to integrate additional weapons beyond Japan’s Type 07 ASW missiles launched at VLS or replace the Type 17 ASW missiles that are in place. Remarkably, this extensive integration of foreign weapons, sensors, or foreign CMS into a Japanese original design is a first for a Japanese military supplier as an export product. Japan and the United States’ long-standing cooperation on Aegis sets a precedent. However, these efforts also contrast with the adaptation of foreign technology to Japanese requirements, which involves decades of close bilateral cooperation.

Broad Questions and Challenges for Tier 2 

The case presented by Mr. Mogami is, to some extent, relevant to all foreign designs intended to serve as templates. South Korea’s Daegu Batch II/III FFG also features hardware primarily developed in South Korea. Like Mogami, the main gun and CIWS are notable exceptions in this regard. Logically, if the RAN were to undergo a Daegu-based design, it would require the introduction of completely foreign subsystems and weapons to the RAN’s operational ecosystem. Alternatively, integrating bespoke hardware like Mogami requires additional procurement time and funding. Observers will remember the disastrous SEA 1180 mission, which simply attempted to install a custom gun on an Arafura-class OPV and understand the challenges involved. 

The Hunter program is a more extreme example and, of course, the original cause of the current mystery. TKMS and Navantia have a proven track record of integrating foreign hardware into enterprise designs. After all, the ANZAC itself is an adaptation of the old MEKO-200. Still, the company’s product is not yet ready for Canberra to finance and cut the first steel. To build quickly, the RAN will have to introduce entirely new types of weapons, sensors, and combat systems. The service may also be required to waive many specifications related to its operating standards. Of the two suppliers, TKMS has a longer and more extensive track record of providing a variety of family designs to meet specific requirements.

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