Maritime Tales: A Company History Series | Episode 9

Original "Fremantle" class

Words by Dave McMillan, former CEO of Vard Marine Inc. (1989-2020)

We had been actively trying to expand our OPV vessel portfolio after the success of the 80 metre design for the Irish Naval Service and in the fall of 2001, we partnered with Babcock Defense Systems Australia to submit a bid to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) for their Replacement Patrol Boat (RPB) program. This proposal required a significant design effort and we were funded by our partner to develop a comprehensive design package for a new 55 metre patrol boat for the submission. Mark Cook and I also spent 6-8 weeks in Canberra during the latter part of the program to assist with writing the technical proposal. Overall, the team in Canberra totalled more than a dozen people.

The RFP for the RPB program was very unusual in that the offeror had to not only design a technically compliant vessel but also determine the minimum number of vessels necessary to provide a monthly quota of “sailing” days to cover the entire Australian coast and select regional waters. This required a very detailed assessment of the operating profile of each vessel, including time out of service for maintenance/class inspections. Specialists within the Babcock organization developed the complex spreadsheet to analyze these scenarios and the outcome showed that a minimum number of 13 vessels would be sufficient. What complicated the offer was also the fact that, based on a sample operating profile, the bidder also had to estimate fuel costs over the 15 year life of the program. In the end, these costs were a major factor in the overall bid assessment. 

While we had a very good offer using a steel hull design, the eventual winner was the Australian bidder Austal with an aluminum design which ultimately had a significant fuel saving advantage over the BDSA offer. This award went against previous guidance from the RAN, indicating that they did not want an aluminum design based on their previous experience with the “Fremantle” class that did not offer the necessary seakeeping capability and had been prone to structural failures.

This project however was a success because it gave us access to a very comprehensive write-up for a large government program.