Keeping Major Naval Ship Acquisitions on Course

Key Considerations for Managing Australia's SEA 5000 Future Frigate Program

by John F. Schank, Mark V. Arena, Kristy N. Kamarck, Gordon T. Lee, John Birkler, Robert Murphy, Roger Lough


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Research Questions

  1. What ship design and build options are available and what are the implications of choosing among the various options?
  2. In a naval ship acquisition program, what are the various phases, options, and decisions?
  3. What important aspects can contribute to the success of an acquisition program?

This study provides a program overview of acquisition options available for the Commonwealth of Australia's next generation naval surface combatant and identifies internal and external factors that can influence a major ship acquisition program. The authors address questions relating to available ship design and build options; various phases, options, and decisions; and aspects that can contribute to the success of an acquisition program. Three broad options for designing and building the new ship include a new design, tailor-made to Royal Australian Navy specifications and requirements; a military off-the-shelf design, which would involve making only minor modifications to an existing ship design; and an evolved military off-the-shelf design, which would involve making more significant modifications to an existing ship design. The authors discuss lessons learned as they apply to different phases of a shipbuilding program and highlight the lessons most applicable to the acquisition strategy selected.

Key Findings

Three Design and Build Options Are Available

  • The first option is a new design, essentially designing from scratch. This option would be designed and tailor-made to Royal Australian Navy specifications and requirements.
  • Another option is called military off-the-shelf (MOTS), which entails acquiring an existing ship design from an Australian or foreign ship producer and making only minor modifications to the design.
  • The last option is an evolved MOTS, which also entails acquiring an existing ship design from an Australian or foreign ship producer but making significant modifications to the design.


  • The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) should be an intelligent and informed partner in the acquisition process, by involving the appropriate organizations early and often, clearly assigning roles and responsibilities, and understanding the cost and schedule implications of options.
  • RAN should clearly state its requirements.
  • RAN should also understand and obtain the required intellectual property rights.
  • It should strive for program stability.
  • It should commence construction only after designs have been largely completed.
  • RAN should maintain a strategic perspective, keeping in mind how the new platform will integrate with the capabilities of other platforms.
  • Critical near-term questions facing the SEA 5000 Future Frigate program should be addressed, including determining the operational and performance requirements and the technical requirement for the future frigate, deciding on the best design option, deciding how to engage with industry and how the program office will monitor the program, and deciding how the class will be supported throughout its life.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Establishing and Supporting a Program

  • Chapter Three

    SEA 5000 Acquisition Options

  • Chapter Four

    Overview of a Naval Shipbuilding Program

  • Chapter Five

    Acquisition and Contracting Strategy

  • Chapter Six

    The Solutions Analysis Phase

  • Chapter Seven

    Design Activities

  • Chapter Eight

    Manufacturing and Build

  • Chapter Nine

    Test and Trials

  • Chapter Ten

    Operations and Support

  • Chapter Eleven

    Summary Comments

  • Appendix A

    Overview of Recent Shipbuilding Programs in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom

  • Appendix B

    Technology Readiness Levels

  • Appendix C

    Best Practices in Scheduling

This research was conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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