February 25, 2013
Credit: BAE Systems
Bradley Perrett Melbourne, Australia
Five years after contract signature, work on Australia's largest-ever warships, the landing helicopter dockships HMAS Canberra and Adelaide, is going better than for previous large defense programs, according to the Australian government and prime contractor BAE Systems. “The project expects to successfully deliver the LHDs on time, on budget and to the contracted capability,” says an Australian defense department official.
Keys to success are that the ships' electronic systems are not complex and that much of the program uses off-the-shelf designs. The fully fitted hulls are the responsibility of Spain's Navantia yard and are near-sisters of the in-service LHD Juan Carlos I.
The hull for Canberra left Spain aboard the MV Blue Marlin last August, only about four weeks late, and arrived at Melbourne in October. Adelaide's hull, intended to follow Canberra's by 18 months, is now expected to lag by only 15 months, providing a buffer against later problems.
Canberra is due to be operational at the end of 2014 and Adelaide in the second quarter of 2016. Each ship should be able to support operations by Australia's Amphibious Ready Element after nine months of service.
BAE is building the island superstructures in Melbourne and integrating the combat, command, communications and sensor fit, which is quite different from that on Juan Carlos I. There are no all-new components in the electronics, but BAE program director Marcos Alfonso says the overall system is new. “We have concentrated heavily on the integration and interface of the combat and communications system,” he says, and BAE has built up a complete electronics system on land at its Williamstown shipyard in Melbourne.
For BAE, the second big challenge is precision in fabrication: The structure and internal fittings of the islands must neatly join the hulls. This has been a problem for the Australian navy's Hobart-class air warfare destroyers.
The defense department attributes the program's success to an early focus on risk reduction, leading to solid understanding of exactly what it was buying. Since then, the project leadership has minimized changes to the requirement. “The Mission Platform Specification as approved by the government at second pass [authority to contract] has remained unchanged throughout the construction period,” says the defense department official. The only changes are minor, driven by regulatory requirements and differences between European and Australian standards.