Beyond the Australian Sea 5000 race, a true European competition

Three European naval competitors are still striving to take the lead in the last legs of the Sea 5000 Australian competition, with a final whistle expected by the end of this month:

  1. FINCANTIERI, the state-owned Italian shipbuilder, offering the Italian Navy Bergamini class multimission frigate,
  2. NAVANTIA, the state-owned Spanish shipbuilder, with a by-product of the RAN Hobart class Air Warfare Destroyer,
  3. BAES, the private major UK Defence Group, with the Global Combat Ship, a variant of the future Royal Navy ASW frigate type 26.

The 3 contenders are said to offer a ship displacing from 6300 to 7000t, with a length below 150 m.

The RAN specification is for 9 ships (3 batches of 3), basically anti submarines warfare (ASW) frigates to replace the ageing ANZAC and complement the 3 Hobart air warfare (AAW) destroyers, presently being delivered by the OSBORNE Australian shipyard.

In a highly professional manner, the Australian MOD is heading for the selection of the best operational ship to be built in OSBORNE under responsibility of the design winner.

Australia (SEA 5000) and Canada (CSC) fighting the same naval battle?

In some Naval Defence circles, it was suggested that the Australian choice might well have an impact on the outcome of the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project, due midyear. The Canadian MOD shall then make the choice of a design partner to Irving Shipbuilding, the Halifax based shipbuilder appointed CSC Prime Contractor.[1] Navantia and BAES again are on the contenders list.

However, one may doubt of a common selection by Australia and Canada of the same ship: of course same timetables and Commonwealth cultures favour the assumption of a single design source for both Royal Navies, especially if it were from the UK…. But at the end of the day, naval missions, maritime areas and military requirements differ enough to deny a common class. Particularly if one looks at the combined ASW and AAW capabilities: the Australian F 5000 frigates have a primary ASW mission, the RAN being strong enough to operate also AAW destroyers in support of the ASW frigates, whereas the Canadian CSC has to be multimission and cover both together AAW and ASW.

And as the geographers teach and repeat:  North Atlantic and South Pacific are not the same oceans, with typical weather and bathy conditions and extremely different bordering shores!


[1] See Defence Chronicles: 27-10-2017 RN and RCN poised to merge and 10-02-2018 Canadian surface combatant: running crazy

How to appreciate the  SEA 5000 offers?

We assume that the 7 above criteria apply, which is of course disputable but only aims at delivering an expert point of view on the Australian contest, as seen from a EU lookout. Considering each of them objectively and separately, sort of a ranking might come out between the remaining 3 competitors of the Sea 5000 project:

  1. ASW

BAES alone can pretend to meet the requirement totally, the Spanish and Italian designs being multi-mission oriented, whereas the type 26 is a full fledge ASW ship by design. Bergamini is basically multimission, Hobart AAW (and the Navantia Hobart mother ship F100, multimission also).

  1. US systems

Navantia certainly, having no other system experience than US weapons and AEGIS since decades[1], but BAES also with a major armaments connection in the US.

  1. Proven design

 Navantia with 3 Hobart/ F 100 may be credited of a proven design, Fincantieri also with 6 Italian Navy Bergamini multimission frigates (out of 10). BAES may not: the type 26 shall not be commissioned before 2026[2] and “it is derived from the type 23 “[3] …. which was designed 34 years ago, and delivered: first of class 27 years ago, last one 16 years ago.[4]

  1. Hobart class commonality

Navantia of course comes first, having designed the Hobart class and transferred the ship building technology for construction of the 3 units by the Osborne shipyard, near Adelaïde in South Australia. Neither Fincantieri nor BAES can match it, even if BAES Australia built under Navantia licence.

  1. First rank NATO Navy

 BAES is on top, the Royal Navy sharing with the French Marine Nationale the first rank of NATO Navies in Europe. The Spanish Navy (Navantia) and the Italian (Fincantieri), well behind, cannot be seen as first rank operational partners. Fincantieri would have benefited from the French rank if NAVAL GROUP had been associated for a FREMM Australian variant, (Bergamini being the specific Italian one); such is not the case.

  1. Geopolitical view

BAES equally first, the diplomatic and geopolitical interests of the UK in the Pacific area and the status of Australia member of the Commonwealth certainly may give a clear advantage to the type 21. Here again if closely associated with the French, the Italians would have enjoyed a much better position.

  1. TT in Australia

Navantia again has the benefit of a recent transfer of technology to Australia with the construction of the 3 Hobart class DDGH in Osborne (Adelaïde).

BAES could pretend to master such TT, based on the 2 Navantia designed LHDs, Canberra and Adelaïde, assembled in Williamstown (former Tenix) under responsibility of BAES Australia, but the local work was limited; and later the Australian Government shifted the naval construction to Osborne, for the Hobart class and the future Sea 5000.

The weight of the criteria favourable to Navantia is of course subject to the RAN appreciation of the Hobart class significant delays and overcost.


[1] Jane’s Fighting Ships: FFGHM Spain 08-Dec-2017, Frigates Spain 13-Feb-2017, Frigates Norway 13-Nov-2017

[2] UK National Shipbuilding Strategy, page 24

[3] Nigel Stewart, BAE Systems SEA 5000 Managing Director, on Defence connect podcast, 2April 2018, Times of Zambia

[4] Jane’s Fighting Ships 11-jan 2018

What’s your pleasure sir?

To this sort of question from the naval shipbuilders attracted by Sea 5000, the RAN Admiralty and the Australian highest authorities released the detailed requirements of their project which, of course, remain confidential.

However from the comments made openly in the press and public intelligence, the basic requirements could come down to a limited number of criteria. We, at Defence Chronicles, selected 7 of them, in a genuine attempt to complete a fair evaluation of the competitors’ chances:

Regarding the frigate’s technical features:

  1. an ASW ship, as outlined here-above,
  2. a ship to be fitted with US weapons: Harpoon at least, if not Tomahawk, ESSM, Mk 48 torpedoes, US AEGIS combat system and MK 41 missiles launcher,
  3. a proven design, if not off-the-shelf,
  4. commonality, as far as possible, with the Hobart class equipments and systems.

In the Defence and political areas, one may expect at least:

  1. to share the ships’ systems and even if possible platforms with other friendly first rank NATO Navies,
  2. to share political and defence interests with the designer/builder mother country, common frigates forming the core of a possible common naval strategy.

Regarding the industrial involvement of the Australian manufacturing capacities and services:

  1. to have a track record in the transfer of naval surface ships technology, if possible in Australia.

SEA 5000: BAES and Navantia neck and neck

A review of those seven criteria, of course, is just a way to broach the subject of the Sea 5000 selection. Some other criteria could be considered which we kept off. There are also other possible responses to the criteria but we, at Defence Chronicles, defend the view that if not sufficient they at least are not disputable.

From the above evaluation, BAES and Navantia would be neck and neck, each with different strong points, technical for BAES, industrial for NAVANTIA.

Far behind, Fincantieri with the excellent and proven FREMM shared with the French Navy, may not be ASW enough, neither US weapons oriented; also much less familiar with the Australian industries than its two competitors.[1].

But who knows! Alike their rugby players, the Australian master the element of surprise!


[1] Defence Chronicles ranking (criteria a to g here-above): BAES 4, Navantia 4, Fincantieri 1


Far beyond the Sea 5000 competition, the Australian competition has European consequences:

For BAES, this order would mean a dramatic come-back from the grave after years of decay and naval looming projects. With the CSC project tailored for its frigate, and tis pre-selection in Germany in the MKS 180 race, BAES could gain  two (on three) major frigate’s competitions.

For Navantia, the Australian competition will probably help avoiding the bankruptcy of the Yards, after they registered a €400 million loss in 2017.

For Fincantieri, stakes are high in Europe too, where it can gain or loose its position at the side of its future partner, Naval Group, whose track records in surface fleet are far brighter.

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