Although having a common design (which could be up to 2,000 tonnes in displacement), the ships would use a modular mission payload system to fulfill specific roles; primarily border patrol, mine warfare, and hydrographic survey.
The 2013 Defence White Paper committed to the OCV project as a long-term goal, but opted in the short term for an accelerated procurement of an existing design to replace the Armidales, and life-extension refits for the other types. This resulted in the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) project and the number of vessels reduced to 12. However, this was further increased to 14 when 2 further Mine Counter Measures variants were proposed under SEA 1905.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on 18 April 2016 that ship designers Damen, Fassmer and Lürssen had been shortlisted for the project. On 24 November 2017, the government announced that Lürssen had been selected.
The Arafura-class is based on the Lürssen-designed Darussalam-class, operated by the Royal Brunei Navy. Each vessel has a gross displacement of 1,640 tonnes, and measures 80 metres (260 ft) long, with a beam of 13 metres (43 ft) and a draft of 4 metres (13 ft).
Propulsion power is from two MTU 16V diesel engines rated at 4,440 kilowatts (5,950 hp) each, which drive variable pitch propellers and give a top speed of 22 knots (25 mph), and shipboard electrical power is generated by MAN diesel engines. The ship's range is about 4,000 nautical miles (7,400 km), with an endurance of 21 days.
The standard crew complement is 40 sailors, though up to 60 troops can be berthed if required.
The ships will be deployed with empty space available to install container-mounted systems such as aircraft support and sensors; if fully utilized, the gross displacement could increase to 1,800 tonnes.
Shipboard armament consists of a single 40 mm gun and two 12.7 mm guns.
Two separate electro-optic targeting systems and three radars are installed and managed by the SAAB Situational Awareness System (SAS). These are the Saab EOS500 electro-optical fire control director, Terma SCANTER 6002 radar, Safran Vigy Engage electro-optical surveillance and fire control multisensor system
Each vessel carries two 8.5-metre (28 ft) rigid inflatable boats and a single 10-metre (33 ft) boat, which are intended as the primary means of deploying offensive force in the ships' border patrol role.
In order to allow the ships to operate in conjunction with allied international forces, each ship is equipped with a unique electronic identifier transponder that allows for communication via the Link 16 network.
A single unmanned aerial vehicle is carried and deployed from an open utility deck.
The class of ships will be based on Lürssen's OPV80, similar to the Darussalam-class offshore patrol vessel of the Royal Brunei Navy. The first two vessels will be built by ASC Shipbuilding in Adelaide, South Australia before production is transferred to Forgacs Marine & Defence shipyards in Henderson, Western Australia.
Construction of the first ship began on 15 November 2018. On that day, it was also announced that the vessel would be named HMAS Arafura, and the class the Arafura-class patrol vessels.
On 9 April 2020 the second ship in the class, HMAS Eyre, was laid down at ASC's shipyard. The names of the following four ships were also announced at this time: HMA Ships Pilbara, Gippsland, Illawara and Carpentaria.
On 11 September 2020 the third ship, HMAS Pilbara, was laid down at Civmec in Perth.
On 4 January 2021, construction began on the fourth ship, HMAS Gippsland, at Civmec.