Armidale class patrol boat

The "Armidale" class patrol boat is a class of fourteen patrol boats built for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The class entered service in June 2005, and replaces the RAN's "Fremantle" class patrol boats.

Design and construction

Planning for the "Armidale" class began in 1993, as a plan to replace the "Fremantle" class, which was due for retirement in 1998.cite news |first=Julian |last=Kerr |title=Plain sailing: Australia's Armidales prove fit for task |url= |format= |work=Jane's Navy International |publisher=Jane's Information Group |location= |id= |pages= |page= |date=2008-01-01 ] This evolved into a joint program with Malaysia to construct an offshore patrol craft. When Malaysia pulled out, the plan was scrapped, and instead the "Fremantle"s underwent a life-extending refit. In 2002, the cost of maintaining the ageing patrol boats led the Department of Defence to reinstigate the replacement project, under the designation SEA 1444.

SEA 1444 marked several departures from the Department's standard acquisition requirements. Instead of specifying a number of vessels, the coverage required was given (specified in ship-days per year) with the producer to determine how many ships were needed. The ships had to meet specific performance parameters, such as the ability to conduct boarding operations in conditions up to Sea State 4, and to maintain surveillance capability up to Sea State 5. The producer was also required in the contract to provide support and maintenance for the ships, for fifteen years after construction completed. The tender was awarded to Defence Maritime Services (DMS) and Austal Ships in December 2003, who offered twelve ships (increased to fourteen in 2005) based on an expanded version of the latter's "Bay" class patrol boat, used by the Australian Customs Service.cite web |url=http://www.tenix.com/News2.asp?ID=42 |title=Tenix shortlisted for Patrol Boat tender |accessdate=2007-07-26 |date=2002-06-01 |format=press release |publisher=Tenix |quote= [Defense Maritime Services, partnering with Austal] is offering a stretched version of the Austal designed Bay Class Patrol Boat that is currently in service with Australian Customs.] The contract was valued at AU$553 million, with each ship costing between AU$24 million and AU$28 million to construct.cite news |first=Julian |last=Kerr |title=Patrol boats shake down fuel faults |url= |format= |work=The Australian: Defence Special Report |publisher=News Corporation |location= |id= |pages= |page=8 |date=2007-12-08 |accessdate= |language= |quote= |archiveurl= |archivedate= ] The DMS/Austal design was selected from three design tenders; the other two from Australian Defence Industries (ADI) and Tenix.

Introduction into service

Lead ship HMAS "Armidale" was commissioned into the RAN in June 2005. Two other patrol boats were delivered to the RAN in 2005, six in 2006, and five in 2007, with the final ship in the class, HMAS "Glenelg", delivered in October 2007 and commissioned in February 2008. All fourteen ships were built at Austral Ships' shipyard at Henderson, Western Australia.

The "Armidale" class has demonstrated an improved seakeeping ability over the preceding "Fremantle" class, as the ships are 15 metres longer, 85 tons heavier, and have stabilisers incorporated into the design. They are able to survive conditions up to Sea State 9. The ships also have an increased range of 3,000 nautical miles at 12 knots, allowing them to patrol the waters around the distant territories of Australia, including the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. "Armidale"s are designed for patrols of 21 days, although operational requirements may require extension. Crew comfort is also significantly improved over the "Fremantle" class, with air conditioning throughout the entire ship (excluding engine and machinery compartments). Non-commissioned sailors are housed in four-berth cabins, as opposed to the central sixteen-berth mess deck of the "Fremantle"s, while senior sailors and officers either have individual or share two-berth cabins. A 20-berth compartment for auxiliary accommodation was available for when the ship has to transport soldiers or detainees; however the release of toxic fumes into this compartment aboard HMAS "Maitland", although blamed on improper operation of sewage treatment facilities, has led to a ban on the compartment's use across the class. Crew have access to e-mail and satellite television, and the galley is better equipped and suited to use in heavy seas. Boarding operations have been enhanced by the inclusion of two 7.2 metre, waterjet propelled rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB). The RHIBs are larger and more powerful than the single RHIB aboard a "Fremantle", and as each RHIB has a dedicated cradle and davit, the boats can be launched and recovered easily.

The introduction of the class into service has not been without problems. Since June 2005, all active "Armidale"s have undergone operating restrictions on two occasions, both due to water contamination of the main fuel systems. The first occurrence, in September 2006, led to the suspension of operations by the patrol boats for a month, and the engineering controls were redesigned. The problem occurred again in January 2007, and led to an 'operational pause' while Austal redesigned the fuel system, engineering procedures were altered, and fuel quality criteria were tightened. The five ships yet to be completed were fitted with the modified fuel system during construction, while the active ships were refitted over the course of 2007. As of December 2007, no further fuel problems have occurred.

Operations

The majority of the ships are based in Cairns and Darwin, and are tasked with border protection and fishing patrols. Two, HMA Ships "Glenelg" and "Maryborough", are based in Dampier, Western Australia. These ships were ordered in 2005 for the specific role of protecting oil and gas producing facilities located off the north-west coast of Australia.

The ships may also be used to support the Army's Regional Force Surveillance Units and special forces. All of the Armidale Class ships will be operated by the Australian Patrol Boat Group.

Crewing

Unlike the "Fremantle" class patrol boats, the "Armidale" class patrol boats do not have a crew permanently assigned to the vessel. 21 crews man the 14 "Armidale" class patrol boats, and are divided up into four divisions: "Attack", "Assail", "Ardent", and "Aware". Three of the Divisions are assigned six crews for four ships, while the fourth has three crews for two ships. The fourteen ships are continually manned, with two out of three crews actively deployed while the third undergoes leave or training, or prepares to transfer into a ship: a change of crew can be accomplished in less than six hours. The intention of multi-crewing is to allow the ships to spend more time at sea, without compromising rest time or training requirements.

Units

The Royal Australian Navy published an article on previous ships with these names in [http://www.defence.gov.au/news/navynews/editions/4801/feature/feature01.htm Navy News]

Appearances in fiction

The second season of Australian drama series "Sea Patrol" is set on a fictional "Armidale" class patrol boat. The ship is named HMAS "Hammersley", and has the hull number 82.cite news |first=Michael |last=Idato |title=All ship shape |url=http://www.smh.com.au/news/tv--radio/all-ship-shape/2008/03/29/1206207482199.html?page=2 |work=SydneyMorningHerald.com.au, Entertainment (TV and Radio) section |page=2 |date=2008-03-31 |accessdate=2008-04-10] Two ships were to represent "Hammersley": 42 of the 86 days of filming were spent aboard HMAS "Broome" (ACPB 90), with later pick-up filming aboard HMAS "Launceston" (ACPB 94).

References

* Royal Australian Navy [http://www.navy.gov.au/w/index.php/Armidale_Class Patrol Boats]
* Royal Australian Navy Sea Power Centre [http://www.navy.gov.au/w/images/Semaphore_2006_4.pdf Welcome to the Armidale Class] (PDF)
* Defence Materiel Office [http://www.defence.gov.au/dmo/msd/sea1444/sea1444.cfm Project SEA 1444]
* Australian National Audit Office [http://www.anao.gov.au/uploads/documents/2004-05_Audit_Report_29.pdf The Armidale Class Patrol Boat Project: Project Management]
* Austal [http://www.austal.com/index.cfm?objectID=696021DA-A0CC-3C8C-D939D60FAC0C3C2E Royal Australian Navy 56 m patrol boats]


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