First Hunter frigate block emerges after 45,000 work hours


By Peter Roberts

The first steel block that goes together with others in modern ship construction to produce a final vessel has emerged after 45,000 work hours at BAE Systems Australia’s Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide.

Thirty five trades were involved in the construction including engineering, boilermaking, fabrication, project management and construction.

While this first block – all 140 tonnes of it – is a prototype not intended for the first ship the future HMAS Hunter, the speed and precision of construction bodes well for the success of the brand new shipyard built at Osborne for Australia’s continuous shipbuilding task by the Commonwealth.

BAE Systems Australia Managing Director – Maritime, Craig Lockhart, said: “Throughout construction of the first prototype ship block, our highly-skilled workforce has been able to incorporate new, more efficient and effective ship-build methods and innovations into our processes.

“Already, the quality and productivity we are achieving is well above where we thought it would be at this stage of prototyping. This quality demonstrates the potential of a strong future for continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia.

“We are working towards achieving new benchmarks in manufacturing efficiency and quality and the new processes we are developing allow much greater engagement with Australian suppliers.”

BAE Systems staff have even even floated the idea that the prototype blocks coming from the highly automated, and all but paperless shipyard, could be of such a quality that they are OK’d for incorporation in the Hunter.

However this seems unlikely for this first block – known as block 16 – given it incorporates no Hunter class design changes. The ship design is based on the future HMS Glasgow now under construction in the United Kingdom.

Nonetheless according to Lockhart, the largest surface shipbuilding program in Australian defence history continues to make strong progress.

Shipbuilders are initially manufacturing prototype five prototype ship blocks to test and refine the processes, systems, tools, facilities and workforce skills ahead of construction of the first Hunter class frigate.

There are 22 blocks in each Hunter class frigate all of which will be constructed and assembled indoors – only the tall and massive radar mast will be incorporated into the vessel in the open air.

First steel was cut in December last year for this first prototype block which would form part of the middle of the ship where there are accommodation spaces.

Over the coming weeks and months, the Hunter programme will continue constructing the second and third prototype blocks, each more complex than the last.

In mid-2023, the prototyping programme will commence the production of additional blocks incorporating the Hunter class design changes, with these blocks actually being used in one of the first three ships.

Block 16 specifications:

  • Weight: 141 tonnes
  • Comprises: 4 steel units, known as UB24, UB24B, UB34 and UB34B
  • How they became one: UB24 and UB24B were constructed into a half block, and UB34 and UB34B were constructed into another half block. Both half blocks were horizontally constructed to form one prototype block
  • And size: 452 square metres – equivalent to 2.5 average-size Australian homes.

Picture: BAE Systems Australia

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