Adelaide-class frigate

The Adelaide class was a ship class of six guided missile frigates constructed in Australia and the United States of America for service in the Royal Australian Navy. The class was based on the United States Navy's Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, but modified for Australian requirements. The first four vessels were built in the United States, while the other two were constructed in Australia.

HMAS Darwin, the fourth ship in the Adelaide class
Class overview
Name: Adelaide-class Guided Missile Frigate
Operators:  Royal Australian Navy
Preceded by: Daring-class destroyer
Succeeded by: Hobart-class destroyer
Built: 21 June 1978 – 21 February 1992
In service: 15 November 1980 – 27 September 2019
In commission: 15 November 1980 – 26 October 2019
Completed: 6
Retired: 6
General characteristics
Class and type: Modified Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate
Displacement: 4,100 tons full load
  • 408 ft (124 m) at waterline
  • 455 ft (139 m) overall
Beam: 45 ft (14 m)
Draught: 22 ft (6.7 m)
Propulsion: 2 × General Electric LM2500 gas turbines, each providing 20,500 hp (15,287 kW). Total 41,000 hp (30,574 kW)
Speed: Over 29 knots (54 km/h; 33 mph)
Range: 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Complement: 176–221
Sensors and
processing systems:
AN/SPS-49 radar, Mk 92 fire control system, AN/SPS-55 radar, AN/SQS-56 sonar
Aircraft carried: 2 × S-70B Seahawk or 1 × Seahawk and 1 × AS350B Squirrel
Notes: Mk 41 VLS and ESSM capability installed during the FFG Upgrade project

The first ship entered service in November 1980. Canberra and Adelaide were paid off in 2005 and 2008 respectively, and later sunk as dive wrecks: their decommissioning was to offset the cost of a A$1 billion weapons and equipment upgrade to the remaining four ships. Sydney was decommissioned in late 2015, after spending most of the year as a moored training ship. Darwin was decommissioned in late 2017, Newcastle in June 2019 and Melbourne the last in October 2019. The Hobart-class air-warfare destroyers progressively replaced the last four frigates from 2016 onwards.

Construction and acquisition

Following the cancellation of the Australian light destroyer project in 1973, the British Type 42 destroyer and the American Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate were identified as alternatives.[1] Although the Type 42 met the RAN's requirements as a replacement for the cancelled light destroyers and the Daring-class destroyers, fitting the ship with the SM-1 missile would have been difficult.[1] On the other hand, the Perry class was still at the design stage; a design that was described by assessment project staff as "a second rate escort that falls short of the DDL [light destroyer] requirements on virtually every respect".[1][2] Despite this, the Australian government approved the purchase of two US-built Perry-class ships in 1974.[1]

The risk of acquiring an unproven design was seen as acceptable because of the success of the USN's Charles F. Adams-class destroyer (of which the RAN operated three ships as the Perth class), when compared to the equivalent British ships the RAN would have purchased.[2] Final government approval to order two ships was granted in 1976, with a third ship ordered in 1977.[3] The order was expanded in April 1980 with the order of a fourth unit.[4] These four ships were built by Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle, Washington, as part of the USN's shipbuilding program, and were assigned USN hull numbers during construction, which were replaced with RAN pennant numbers upon entering service.[5] The first, HMAS Adelaide (USN hull number FFG-17, RAN pennant number FFG 01) was built to the Flight I design, while Canberra (FFG-18/FFG 02) and Sydney (FFG-35/FFG 03) were the first and last ships of the Flight II design, respectively.[5] The final American-built ship was Darwin (FFG-44/FFG 04); constructed to the Flight III design.[5] In 1980, two more ships (Melbourne and Newcastle) were ordered, but were built in Australia by AMECON of Williamstown, Victoria, and did not receive USN numbers.[4][5]


From the withdrawal of the Perth-class destroyers in 2001 until the introduction of the Hobart-class in 2017, these ships were the RAN's primary air defence vessels, armed with a Mark 13 missile launcher for SM-2 missiles. They also have significant anti-surface capability, being armed with a 76-millimetre (3.0 in) Mk 75 gun and the Harpoon ASM (also fired by the Mark 13 launcher), and a pair of triple torpedo tubes for ASW. In addition, two S-70B Seahawk helicopters are carried.

From 2005 onwards, all RAN frigates deploying to the Persian Gulf are fitted with two M2HB .50 calibre machine guns in Mini Typhoon mounts, installed on the aft corners of the hangar roof.[6] Two TopLite EO directors are used with the guns.[6]

The Australian frigates were originally fitted with American Mark 46 anti-submarine torpedoes, but by 2008, they had been replaced with the European MU90 Impact torpedo in three of the four frigates as part of the FFG Upgrade, with the conversion of Newcastle underway at that point.[7]


There have been two major upgrades distinguishing the Adelaide class from the American Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.


The first three ships were constructed to the Perry class' 'short' hull design (Flight I and II), with an identical length for both the main deck and the keel.[5] Ships from FFG-36 onwards (including Darwin) were built with an increase in overall length—achieved by angling the transom (the section between the fantail and the keel) to increase the area of the flight deck and allow the operation of Seahawk helicopters.[5] Adelaide, Canberra, and Sydney were later upgraded to match the slightly larger ships, and were fitted with the updated sonars and ESM systems of the Flight III design.[5]

FFG Upgrade

In the mid-1990s, Paul Keating's Labor government decided to retain the Adelaide-class frigates instead of replacing them with the more expensive and much more labour-intensive, but more capable Kidd-class destroyers that the U.S. Navy was selling off.[8][9] Upgrades to the Perry-class were problematic, due to "little reserved space for growth (39 tons in the original design), and the inflexible, proprietary electronics of the time", such that the "US Navy gave up on the idea of upgrades to face new communications realities and advanced missile threats". The U.S. Navy had decommissioned 25 “FFG-7 Short” ships via "bargain basement sales to allies or outright retirement, after an average of only 18 years of service".[10]

Keating's administration was succeeded by the Liberal government of John Howard, which commenced SEA 1390, also known as the FFG Upgrade Project.[8] Originally costing A$1 billion, which has expanded to A$1.46 billion, the project included improvements to the combat and fire control system, the sonar suite, and the air defence missiles.[8] The upgrade was for four ships and intended to expand their service life to approximately 2020.[8] The project cost was partly offset by the decommissioning of the two oldest units:[11] Canberra paying off in 2005 and Adelaide in 2008. Modification of each ship took place at Garden Island Dockyard, with Australian Defence Industries (ADI, now Thales Australia) selected as project leader for the upgrade phase of the project.[8]

By January 2008, the FFG Upgrade Project was running at least four years behind schedule.[12] The frigates' anti-missile and anti-torpedo detection and defence systems could not be integrated as intended, leaving the ships vulnerable to attack.[12] The first ship refitted, HMAS Sydney, was initially not accepted back into service by the RAN because of the problems, which also prevented any refitted ship from serving in a combat zone.[9] Australian Defence Association executives and serving navy personnel have blamed both political parties for the problems: while the Howard Liberal government was responsible for the project, the preceding Labor government chose to maintain the frigates instead of replacing them with the more expensive and much more labour-intensive, but more capable Kidd-class destroyers in the early 1990s.[8][9]

By November 2008, Darwin's upgrade had been completed, while the problems experienced with Sydney had been rectified in both ships.[13] It was planned to start deploying these warships to the Gulf in 2009.[13] The RAN and Thales subsequently claimed that the two upgraded ships were the "most capable ships in the history of the RAN", and that once the other two Adelaides were upgraded, the navy would possess the "most lethal frigate fleet on earth".[13] It was reported at the same time that other nations operating guided missile frigates, including the United States, Canada, Greece, and Turkey, were considering similar upgrades.[13]

After the four surviving Adelaide-class ships were refitted, they were capable of firing SM-2MR and RGM-84 Harpoon missiles from the Mark 13 launcher.[8] An 8-cell Mark 41 Vertical Launch System for Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile had also been installed forward of the Mark 13 launcher. The Phalanx CIWS was upgraded to Block 1B, and the torpedoes, missiles, and other ship-mounted weapons were upgraded to the latest versions.[8]


Canberra and Adelaide were decommissioned to offset the cost of upgrading the remaining four ships, with Canberra decommissioned on 12 November 2005 and Adelaide on 19 January 2008.[11][14]

Canberra was subsequently sunk as a dive wreck on 4 October 2009, 2 nautical miles (3.7 km; 2.3 mi) off Ocean Grove, Victoria, in 30 metres (98 ft) of water.[15] Adelaide was converted into a dive wreck, but plans to scuttle her off Avoca Beach, New South Wales in April 2010 were postponed following protests by resident action groups and a tribunal hearing, which ordered the removal of wiring and paint from sections of the frigate before she was sunk on 13 April 2011.[16][17][18]

Sydney entered port for the final time in February 2015, but remained commissioned as an alongside training ship until 7 November.[19][20] In May 2017, having not received any offers to convert the hull for use as a dive wreck, Sydney was sold for scrap.[21]

Darwin arrived in Sydney for the last time on 1 November 2017, prior to her decommissioning ceremony on 9 December.[22][23]

The upgraded Adelaide-class frigates were replaced by three new Hobart class Air Warfare Destroyers, equipped with the Aegis combat system, starting around 2016.

In April 2017, the Polish government officially expressed interest in purchasing two of the remaining three frigates when they are retired from service.[24][25] Negotiations between the Australian and Polish Governments for the sale were unsuccessful. In January 2019 the Greek Government sent an expression of interest to the Department of Defence for Melbourne and Newcastle.[26] In May 2019 it was reported that Chile had also showed interest in the two frigates.[27]


Name Pennant number Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Paid off Status/fate
Adelaide FFG 01 Todd Pacific Shipyards, Seattle 29 July 1977 21 June 1978 15 November 1980 19 January 2008 Scuttled as dive wreck, 13 April 2011
Canberra FFG 02 1 March 1978 1 December 1978 21 March 1981 12 November 2005 Scuttled as dive wreck, 4 October 2009
Sydney FFG 03 16 January 1980 26 September 1980 29 January 1983 7 November 2015 Broken up at Henderson, Western Australia[28]
Darwin FFG 04 3 July 1981 26 March 1982 21 July 1984 9 December 2017 Broken up at Henderson, Western Australia[29]
Melbourne FFG 05 AMECON, Williamstown 12 July 1985 5 May 1989 15 February 1992 26 October 2019 Awaiting disposal
Newcastle FFG 06 21 July 1989 21 February 1992 11 December 1993 30 June 2019 Awaiting disposal


  1. Jones, in Stevens, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 220
  2. Frame, Pacific Partners, pgs. 102, 162
  3. Frame, Pacific Partners, p. 162
  4. MacDougall, Australians at war, p. 345
  5. Hooton, Perking-up the Perry class
  6. Scott, 'Enhanced small-calibre systems offer shipborne stopping power
  7. Fish & Grevatt, Australia's HMAS Toowoomba test fires MU90 torpedo
  8. Australia's Hazard(ous) Frigate Upgrade, in Defense Industry Daily
  9. McPhedran, Frigates 'can't go to war' despite $1.4bn upgrade
  11. Saunders (ed.), Jane's Fighting Ships 2008–2009, p. 28
  12. Kirk & staff, Dud frigates an inherited nightmare
  13. McPhedran, Australia's naval frigates 'worth the wait'
  14. Australian Department of Defence, HMAS Adelaide Decommissions
  15. Draper, 'Old Warship sunk off Victoria's coast
  16. Harvey & West, Judge orders tough new rules for scuttling
  17. Fish, Australia's Adelaide ends 27 years of service
  18. Westbrook, Dolphins frolic, protesters sunk as frigate sent to the bottom
  19. "Final entry into Sydney for city's namesake warship" (Press release). Department of Defence. 27 February 2015. Archived from the original on 27 February 2015. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  20. "HMAS Sydney decommissioned after 32 years of service". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 7 November 2015. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  21. Minister for Defence Personnel (18 May 2017). "Ex-HMAS Sydney retires to Western Australia". Navy Daily (Press release). Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  22. "HMAS Darwin sails into port for the last time ahead of decommissioning". PM with Dominique Schwarz. ABC. 1 November 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  23. "Navy farewells HMAS Darwin after 33 years of service". Navy News. Royal Australian Navy. 9 December 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  24. Kerr, Julian (30 March 2017). "Ex-RAN FFGs for Poland?". Australian Defence Magazine. Sydney, Australia. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  25. Adamowski, Jaroslaw (29 March 2017). "Poland eyes frigates from Australia, new submarines". Defense News. Warsaw, Poland. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  26. Levick, Ewan (24 January 2019). "Greece shows interest in buying RAN FFGs". Australian Defence Magazine. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  27. "Australia preparing possible transfer of 2 Adelaide-class frigates to Chile". Asia Pacific Defense Journal. 30 May 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  28. "Retired Australian frigate leaves Sydney for scrapping". Naval Today. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  29. "Ex-HMAS Darwin to be scrapped at Henderson". Cockburn Express. Retrieved 30 January 2019.


  • Frame, Tom (1992). Pacific Partners: a history of Australian-American naval relations. Rydalmere, NSW: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-56685-X. OCLC 27433673.
  • Jones, Peter (2001). "1972–1983: Towards Self-Reliance". In Stevens, David (ed.). The Royal Australian Navy. The Australian Centenary History of Defence (vol III). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-555542-2. OCLC 50418095.
  • MacDougall, Anthony Keith (2002) [1991]. Australians at war: a pictorial history (2nd (revised and expanded) ed.). Noble Park, Vic: The Five Mile Press. ISBN 1-86503-865-2. OCLC 260099887.
  • Saunders, Stephen, ed. (2008). Jane's Fighting Ships 2008–2009. Jane's Fighting Ships (111th ed.). Surrey: Jane's Information Group. ISBN 978-0-7106-2845-9. OCLC 225431774.
Journal articles
  • Fish, Tim; Grevatt, Jon (24 June 2008). "Australia's HMAS Toowoomba test fires MU90 torpedo". Jane's Navy International. Jane's Information Group.
  • Fish, Tim (1 March 2008). "Australia's Adelaide ends 27 years of service". Jane's Navy International. Jane's Information Group.
  • Hooton, E.R. (1 December 1996). "Perking-up the Perry class". Jane's International Defence Review. Jane's Information Group. 9 (9).
  • Scott, Richard (12 December 2007). "Enhanced small-calibre systems offer shipborne stopping power". International Defence Review. Jane's Information Group.
News articles
Websites and other media

Further reading

  • Earnshaw, Dr. Paul (September–October 1997). "The Australian Frigate Project" (PDF). Australian Defence Force Journal. Department of Defence (127). Retrieved 24 April 2009.
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