’s most successful naval surface combatant project – by far – was the one that produced ten 3,500 tonne locally built ANZAC frigates. These were constructed on time and on budget – unheard of for other projects – and were commissioned between 1996 and 2006. Eight were for the RAN and two for the RNZN. Since then, they have remain the workhorses of both navies.

It is one of the abiding mysteries why such a successful less successful template for project delivery was then ditched by Defence, who subsequently used different designers and primes for subsequent contracts, with far results. The Hobart class Air Warfare Destroyers were at least four years late and $1.4 billion over budget. The emerging Hunter class are behind schedule – though exactly by how much is a topic of dispute – and the eventual price tag for nine hulls is unclear, though it will certainly exceed $40 billion.

Both the 9,000 tonne Hunter and 7,000 Hobart classes are much larger than the Anzacs and are more complex, though following their Anti-Ship Missile Defence upgrades incorporating a CEA active phased array radar suite the latter are at the leading edge of capability. Also, the Anzacs achieved in excess of 80% Australian content – an almost unbelievable figure today and one which included a lot of the complex electronics. This was because the German designer Blohm+Voss – subsequently absorbed by its parent company thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (also known as tk MS) actually tweaked the parent design with the objective of maximising Australian and New Zealand content.

This came about for several reasons. In a fierce competition against a Dutch design, it was made clear by both the Australian and especially New Zealand governments, the Defence Department – and even the RAN – that local industry content was an essential requirement. To win, B+V and their Australian industry partner AMECON – basically the heavy engineering company Transfield, which morphed into Tenix – set about doing as much here as they could. In achieving this objective they were also helped by a large production run of 10 ships, with the further advantage that these were to a highly modular design well-suited to distributing work packages far and wide.

This is an excerpt from APDR. To read the full story, click here.

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Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


  1. In high-sight it would have been much better to continue to build the Hobart class hull in the same way Spain is replacing their OHP class Frigates with a simplified version of the same hull following on from F100 Air Defense frigate. Yes it won’t have the same quieting that the Type 26 Frigate has but it has alot more Mk41 Vls cells which I think in a conflict with China would be a far more important factor that extra quieting. Australia has one of the larger fleets of anti-submarine aircraft in the world and the best tool to fight a submarine is another submarine which brings us to the other factor in this.
    There is no point thinking about building another batch of frigates when Australia is facing a massive strategic problem in the obsolescence of it submarine fleet. The ADF and government should be putting this as its number one priority to sort out. It’s far more important than replacing the helicopter fleet or buying new tanks as an example (which are a more of a want than need). Because of the lack of nuclear weapons or long range bombers, submarines are Australia’s only option for strategic deterrence because of it’s distance from China.
    The cheapest option and the option that would get submarines in service fastest would be a purchase from Germany of the Type 216 submarine (4000 tones, AIP, vls tubes in addition to torpedo magazine) as an interim solution. There is one issue with this however in that I do believe Germany is currently experiencing a ship building slowdown because of the energy crisis over there.
    Once those interim submarine are in place then they could focus in SSNs, heck if the interims were built in Germany they could still continue working on a SSN option with out delay.

    • I agree absolutely that it would have been better to continue building AWDs. You are also correct that the Type 216 is in theory a suitable contender, but for some reason the RAN has always been dismissive of the Germans. Unfortunately Saab-Kockums are now in the same basket with a a strong, completely irrational, anti-Swedish sentiment dominating DoD / RAN thinking.

      • Don’t get me wrong, the Type 216 isn’t the first choice, but given the time frames involved the Type 216 is probably the only option to be able to get boats in the water by 2030 (if a decision was made this year and basing it on the Singaporean customised Type 218 timeframe which was actually based on the Type 216 design and is described as a complex project).
        Do you think the dismissive side of things is the result of industry capture of the defence establishment to some degree? Some of the procurement decisions in the last 5 years or so don’t seem to make any sense for the ADF needs.
        I mean in terms of conventional submarines there isn’t the same amount of options as there were when the Collins were chosen and I don’t actually think French option was the wrong choice. The Collins is just too old a design to rehash, the Type 216 is very good but basically a scaled up from smaller designs, and given that the RAN wanted the closest thing to a SSN the French were the only game in town unless a whole new design was created from scratch was which is very risky. The Spanish tried it and 20 years later their new submarines are still not in service.

        • The way the Defence internal decision-making process functions is a mystery for many, including me. For a quick build of an existing design (the Type 216 has not yet been constructed) it would be hard to go past the DSME / Hanwha KSS-III Batch 2, which meets – or at least is very close to – the RAN’s range/endurance requirements.

  2. A big difference between ANZAC and AWD or Hunter is that the original ANZACs were almost completely devoid of capability. Originally, they resembled patrol boats build to government specifications, with a single 5″ gun and chalk outlines for harpoon and Phalanx. These ANZAC resembled gunships of the 50’s and 60’s.

    Comparing a capability that has evolved over 30+ years, with clean sheet designs, is a little disingenuous!

    • The ANZACs were lightly equipped because the RAN had a philosophy of “fitted for, but not with” because they had classified it as a Tier 2 combatant. That had nothing to do with the suitability of the design.

  3. Are you proposing a new fleet of MEKO’s to replace the upcoming Hunter or Arafura class or would they be in addition?

    • In addition. In 2026 the AWDs start their upgrades with each one taken out of service for 2 years. The timing of the Hunter class remains uncertain, but it doesn’t look like we will receive any before 2032.

  4. Anzacs were “fitted …not with” they were not fitted for anything, no space allowance, no power supply considerations and definitely no PnP architecture. They were definitely Tier 2/3 OPVs at their launch.
    That said, I agree they are NOW definitely a successful and highly capable platform now and I agree that a build of another 10 would be a significant capacity increase. I would also add another 3-5 AWDs in that mix too. Could we afford it all? Could we man it all?….thats the issue isnt it. Afford it yes, man it ….not sure.

    • I worked for B+V on the bid and I can categorically assure you that they had plenty of space and weight for all of the hardware installed at a later date, as well as ample power. Or are you suggesting that somehow extra generating capacity was retrofitted without anyone’s knowledge?

  5. I h@ve a distinct memory of PM Turnbull announcing the end of the “Valley of Death” for the Australian warship industry. The s@me with Morrison, it does seem like more of the “Same Old, Same Old”. Perception is all that matters. The Meko was built to spec, relatively quickly and the final two ships were cheaper than being built in Germany.
    This is the formula Defence needs, but are besotted with “Fan Boy” toys and far two few of then to start with, to make an impact. We now h@ve an arming situation with the Arafura. Meanwhile defence could easily swap out the 85 mtr to the 90 mtr from Lurson with Is a scaled up 85, but no one has the smarts to orchestrate it, probably because Defence would be embarrassed “AGAIN”.


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