Overkill for a patrol vessel? Glorified OPV? Let me know, but personally I like it
In the mid-1990's, the National Westralian Party Government initiated a series of studies into a potential future patrol vessel, examining a range of operational requirements, concepts and designs from across the globe. Whilst the studies were only executed as a preliminary measure with no promise of a decision on any findings, the existing Leveque-class patrol cutters still being relatively new at this point in time, it was concluded that a larger vessel of around 70-80m/1300t with an emphasis on flexibility would fit the needs of the RWN best. Key design elements identified as desirable to any future patrol design included a usefully sized helicopter pad, a hangar, ice-strengthening, enhanced boat handling, reduced crew, improved surveillance, and increased seaworthiness. Whilst interest in a replacement Patrol Vessel grew towards the end of the decade, and there were some moves towards the formalisation of a replacement program, the election of the Worker's Party in 1999 saw these limited plans outright cancelled.
Following the Worker's Party's shift closer into the centre following their reelection in 2001, and the events of 9/11, calls for improved border and regional security saw a return to the idea of a replacement patrol vessel. Another round of studies, building off of the existing studies from half a decade before, saw the concept grow. A shift towards true multi-role capabilities was evident in the study conclusion, with it highlighting the possible benefits of an enlarged flightdeck and hangar, a small stern well-dock, flexible armament and sensor systems, increased computing power and automation. Concept designs grew larger, with some pushing 110m in length and 2300t displacement. The second study also examined took in broader considerations, and formed concepts around these. Issues in ship numbers, patrol area and management, loitering ability and response times (especially in regards to SAR) led the study to formulate an idea based around a two-class patrol fleet, with smaller and faster vessels serving inshore patrol and quick-reaction whilst a class of larger vessels would undertake offshore constabulary missions, including in the Southern Ocean. Following these studies, a formal patrol vessel replacement program was announced, named Project Hammerhead, in 2003.
At the core of Project Hammerhead was the creation of a two-class patrol force, numbering around 8-12 vessels, as outlined in the prior study. The first of these vessels became the smaller 'Shark'-class patrol boat, which began to enter service in 2011. The second of larger class became the 'Noongar'-class of Multirole Patrol Vessels. This design had evolved even further from OPV-like vessel outlined in the studies, with capability creep leading to the ship pushing past the 100m and 2500t mark during the design stage. The finalised design of the class resembled more of a stripped down light frigate than patrol boat, with added roles in support of amphibious and task group roles. A small well-dock was incorporated to allow the operation of a small, purpose designed LCVP that could be used in special and humanitarian operations, capable of transporting 25-30 personnel or a small 4x4. Furthermore, a powerful SMART-S Mk2 formed the core of the combat systems, allowing the vessels to not only scan a wider area and track a larger number of targets, but also be configured to take the role of a light-escort, with space reserved for 8 Mk41 VLS cells in support of this. Armament could include a medium autocannon, surface-air missiles and light surface-surface missile (ESSM and Brimstone Sea Spear). The vessels were to be built 'for-but-not-with' these armaments, with space being reserved for their addition in the event of wartime or a change in future security situations. A potential role also included as an integrated radar picket for the Perth-class Frigates, helping extend their radar horizon. The large flightdeck was designed to be capable of operating rotorcraft as large as a V-22, and an AW101 could feasibly be squeezed into the hangar. The design also incorporated ice-strengthening from the beginning, to allow operations deeper into the Southern Ocean for longer periods of time.
Construction on the first 'Noongar' class vessel began in 2010, with the first vessel launched in 2013 and entering service in 2015, with one entering service every year up to 2018 for a total of four. Despite the costly nature of the ships, a focus on proper project management (informed by lessons learnt from the increasing cost of the Perth Class Frigates) meant that all were delivered on time and on budget Whilst options were held for an additional two vessels, its unlikely these would ever be taken up.
NOONGAR CLASS MULTI-ROLE PATROL VESSEL
Displacement: 2580 tonnes
Speed: 22 kts
Range: 7000nm at 14kts
Complement: 48 crew, room for up to 130 personnel
Armament: Zuytdorp ZM-35N 35mm cannon, 2 x M2 .50BMG, 2 x Oto Melara HitRole .50BMG, 8 x MK41 VLS with up to 32 x ESSM, 16 x Brimstone Sea Spear
Systems: SMART-S MK2, Kelvin-Hughes Sharpeye, Vampir NG, Ultra 2500, Thales Bluewatcher. Fiited for-but-not-with CEA CEAMOUNT. Capable of operating CAPTAS 2
Aviation: Ability to land and service rotorcraft up to V-22, able to hangar up to AW101
Boats: 2 x RHIBs, 1 x 15m LCVP