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Pacific 2017: RN officers on ASW and why they chose the Type 26

RN officers on ASW and why they chose the Type 26

The Royal Navy marked a major millstone recently with the start of construction of the Type 26 Frigate.

The Royal Navy marked a major millstone recently with the start of construction of the Type 26 Frigate.

The Type 26, also known as the Global Combat Ship, will partially replace the Royal Navy’s Type 23 anti-submarine frigates, with the first three Type 26s approved for construction by the UK Ministry of Defence as part of a £3.7 billion ($6 billion) contract.

Designed and built by BAE Systems, the Type 26 is also one of three solutions being considered by the Royal Australian Navy to replace its ageing Anzac Class frigates as part of the SEA 5000 program.

With anti-submarine warfare (ASW) at the core of its DNA, the Royal Navy has pegged its future naval capabilities on the Type 26.

Join Defence Connect host Phillip Tarrant with his guests Commander Richard Hutchings, Fleet ASW Officer, Royal Navy, and Commander Andy Kellett, Navy Ships Type 26 GCS Requirements Manager, Royal Navy, as they discuss the evolving domain of ASW and how the Type 26 will support UK sea-power in the decades ahead.

Enjoy the podcast,

The Defence Connect team

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Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:

Episode 447: PODCAST: Becoming the world’s most cyber-secure nation, with Cyber Security Minister Clare O’Neil
Episode 446: PODCAST: Local infrastructure – key to delivering Defence capabilities, with Cr Peter Hudson
Episode 445: PODCAST: A growing chorus calls for a national security strategy, with ANU’s Professor John Blaxland
Episode 444: PODCAST: Doing the rounds – the week that was in Defence and defence industry
Episode 443: PODCAST: Unpacking the history of Australia’s defence policy and posture, with Michael Pezzullo
Episode 442: PODCAST: Moving beyond the End of History
Episode 441: SPOTLIGHT: Unlocking Defence performance through infrastructure design, with HDR’s Tim Napper
Episode 440: PODCAST: US Space Force engages with Australian SMEs at AusSpace24
Episode 439: PODCAST: Australia’s growing need for a national security strategy, with Andrew Wallace MP
Episode 438: PODCAST: Delivering Black Hawk in record time and setting the record straight on Army’s Aviation evolution

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Defence Connect podcast, with your host Phil Tarrant.

Phil Tarrant: G'day everyone, it's Phil Tarrant here, host of the Defence Connect podcast. We're at Pacific 2017, and I have in the studio with us, the mobile studio, two gentlemen from the Royal Navy. I've been looking forward to this conversation for quite some time. I was fortunate to spend a little bit of time in the UK earlier this year, in Portsmouth and also up in Glasgow, as the Royal Navy and BAE unveiled their new ship for the Royal Navy, the Type 26.

So I saw the first cutting of the steel. There was a lot of pomp, there was a lot of ceremony, but it's good to actually pull up the hood of this thing and actually understand what it's for, and how it's going to help the Royal Navy in the years ahead. And also potentially the Australian government as well, the Australian Navy.

So, I've got Commander Andy Keller in the studio, he's the Type 26 Requirements Manager, with the Royal Navy, and I also have Richard Hutchings in the studio. Richard is the fleet ASW Officer. Gents, thanks for joining us.

Richard H.: It's good to see you.

Phil Tarrant: So, you've come to Sydney, you're here for three or four days, we caught up just before we come on air. Nice to have you here, I hope you're enjoying our hospitality. It's been interesting, Andy, I think you even got to share some of the Grand Final a couple of days ago in the football. How did you enjoy the experience at ANZ stadium?

Andy Keller: Yeah it was fantastic. I was brought up on Rugby League back at home, I'm from Yorkshire, and my team is Leeds Rhinos, so getting the opportunity to go the Grand Final is one of those bucket list events, and it was fantastic, yeah.

Phil Tarrant: So we're not all here for pleasure, you guys are obviously out here for a reason, and from my experience in the UK, earlier this year, the Royal Navy is right behind the Type 26 is a choice that you've made, a very serious choice. Gearing up to operational deployment in 2025, it's still some quite way away, has a lot of work to be done. I think the first ship is underway right now, I think you commence sea trials at 2022, you hand it over to the Navy 2023, and then we get it at 2025 out in the waters.

Before we get into the Type 26, quite interesting to understand it, for our listeners to understand, the evolving nature of ASW [anti-submarine warfare]. I spent some time with one of your colleagues over in the UK in Portsmouth, Tim Green who works in ASW as well. Richard, I know this is a key focus for you. How is the world changing in terms of ASW, from 10 years ago and into the future with these new warships coming along?

Richard H.: So the key challenge we've got is that submarine technology is advancing faster and faster, and it's proliferating across nations across the world. So where you would see key technology, key challenges to face in only certain countries, of advanced nature, actually that technology is spreading more and more widely. And that's very much likely to continue as we look into the future. The Navy's got a very forward-leaning, front-facing ASW requirement, and we've got our continuous at sea deterrent, which obviously is submarine based. And therefore, as it's said, a thief to catch a thief, then you need to counter the submarine threat to that one.
And we do that using layered defence. So we've got our new buy of the P-8 aircraft coming in fairly soon. We've got the current Type 23s, which started off in the 1990s, and they're going to be refreshed with the all new Type 26. So the good news about that is, we're de-risking the technology from 23s into 26s, so we know what we're getting, but we're baselining at the highest possible level we can.

But I've talked about CASD, actually, when we've got the carriers coming online, we're an expeditionary navy, we're part of NATO, ASW is a key priority for the NATO at the minute. So as everyone else is realising the importance of good anti-submarine warfare, not only within NATO areas but around the world, then the Navy's taking a key step towards maintaining and improving its own capability in this area.

Phil Tarrant: So in terms of the ASW operational capability, where does that fit within the whole framework of the Navy? Is it right at the pointy end of what you need to be doing in the period ahead?

Richard H.: Well, if you look at history, I think it was about 1901, Admiral Wilson said, "They're damned underhand and damned un-English." Whether he did say all that I don't know, the debate's out, but ever since we realised that they were foes to be reckoned with, we've been on the front line against submarines. So if you look in the First World War, Second World War, Britain almost came to its knees because of the German U-Boat capability. Similarly, during the Cold War, obviously the Russian threat was primarily posed in the maritime domain by submarines. Other nations are, not surprisingly, maintaining that and developing that technology.

So as we, as a forward-leaning navy, carrying out UK operations in support of UK interests, where you have a proliferation of submarines across the world, then you have to maintain that leading front foot in the ASW battle. So if you want to deliver power where the government chooses, where you expect to go into more and more submarine-operating areas, you must be the best at ASW, which is what our aim is to be.

Phil Tarrant: And the Royal Navy, your capabilities, and I know you can't go too much into the operational activities of the Royal Navy, but you guys are global, you're right across the spate of all the oceans: hot water, cold water, pressing environments. When you go out there looking for a new frigate to support you, to undertake ASW, what was really key for you guys?

Richard H.: So, you've mentioned about the environment, so you need to understand that when you design a ship that is ASW in its mindset, the moment it was announced that the Type 26 was going to be the future ASW frigate, you had to start that baseline. You had to make sure that you had a ship that was absolutely baselined around an anti-submarine capability. So, it was going to be acoustically silent, or as near as you possibly could, so maintaining that capability, because if the enemy hears you coming from quite some range away, he gets a choice. If he can't hear you coming, then you start getting towards the advantage. Surface ships have always had that challenge. But actually, as a former Type 23 CO, I was always pleasantly content with the signature of my ship, and we're only improving that with Type 26.

So you've got to have a properly baselined ASW frigate, not only with the whole baseline, but all the supporting systems. So, your sonar development, that we spent so many years in developing, our science and technology to maximise the capability, bringing forward the technology from submarines, bringing forward our active capability. You've got to put all that in, so that when you bring anti-submarine forces to bear, they're actually going to go and do what they need to do, which is defeat the submarine.

Phil Tarrant: And how important is that technological advantage to really turn the tide in the favour of the Royal Navy's capacity to fight good ASW? You mentioned World War II, when England was nearly brought to its knees by the German U-Boat threat, and it was a technology that really transformed that relationship, that situation, and turn the tide. So fast forward to today and ASW, what is it about that technology that really gives the Royal Navy that advantage?

Richard H.: So, technology's one thing, so yes, if you can have the best sonar you can possibly get, then it's really, really critical. But actually, what we also need are superb operators, people who are training on the kit, who use the kit regularly. And so, what we're trying to do with coherence, is making sure that from the submariners who operate sonars all the time, we maximise the pull-through of understanding into the surface fleet as well, and marry that across into the maritime aviation world as well.

But also, it's understanding where you're operating. If you understand your environment, you can optimise your sensors, so it's not just the technology, just making sure that you've got the most powerful active transmitter and the most sensitive passive receiver, it's understanding that where you've put them in the water column and what the water column's like ... If you get that right, that's where you are a game changer. Anyone can go and buy technology, it's how you operate it that makes that key difference.

Phil Tarrant: And we're talking about eight years away until the first Type 26 that the Royal Navy comes online and is operational, it's quite some way away. The world's going to change rapidly during that period of time. How are you going to stay current during that period, to ensure that you're right at the pointy end of ASW, so when it becomes operational you're on the frontline?

Richard H.: So that's the de-risking piece, so what we're taking forward into Type 26 are similar systems to the once that are in service. So we've already announced that sonar 2087, which we've had in service since around about 2006, we are continually aiming to re-baseline that and improve that one, so that will go into Type 26. So we know what we're going to be getting, we've got all the experience of operating that capability. What we're then trying to do is just leverage forward the additional processing capability in the software development that we've been doing, the algorithm development as well. So that, you can do continuously, you don't have to just stop at one moment in time and say, "Right, that's it, that's what 26 is going to look like." You continue the development through trials and trials processes.

Phil Tarrant: And Andy, you've been part of this journey from the absolute get-go as Requirements Manager. Can you just explain a little bit about the role that you've played to get the Type 26 to where it is right now, and then moving into the future?

Andy Keller: Yeah, sure. I work really closely with Rich and his colleagues in Navy Command Headquarters, because Rich looks after the anti-submarine warfare, but the Type 26 can operate in all environments, anti-air, anti-surface as well as ASW. So the first thing that happens, is that we get together, and Rich is looking at that 5, 10, 15-year, and as best you can, predicting the type of equipment and technology, and the tactics and doctrine, that we want to use in that period. So that then, I translate that into hardware requirement.

And in those areas where we don't know exactly what we're going to get in 10 or 15 years' time, because of scientific, and technology, what we do in the ship is, we have the ability, and build margins, so that whatever Rich delivers to me as far as technology's concerned, in the anti-submarine warfare for the 2087 for instance, then we're ready to receive it. So we build a ship with plenty of room for growth in lots of different areas, but particularly technology. So computing power, processing power, is rapidly changing, so we've built an architecture and a system on board where that can be easily implanted with whatever the latest is in 2024, or upgrade it in 2028.

So that's the process. The things that we hard and fast know, so the propulsion system, we knew which direction of travel we were going in ... We've got an MT30 gas turbine, for instance, that we've just fitted in the new aircraft carrier. So that's going to be in the ship from day one. The more cutting-edge technology, we build the architecture, the framework, and we're ready to receive whatever the technology development takes us over the next five, seven, ten years. So, that's how the process works. And we try and nail down as firmly as we can as much as possible, but we always know that we have to build that growth margin in, because technology moves on.

Phil Tarrant: And how difficult was the process to actually decide on the Type 26 for the Royal Navy? Obviously, a very long incubation period, it's been slated for quite some time to enhance its capabilities with the Royal Navy. Could you talk me through that process, to actually get to the point where you said, "Yes, this is the right vessel for us?".

Andy Keller: So we do all the early development work, as I talked before, in what we call the concept phase, and we come up with lots of different variations of capability, because, as a sailor and as a war fighter, we want everything that we possibly can. But then you meet reality, and the art of the possible. So through the concept phase, we look at lots of different capabilities in all environments, and including all the services that are required. The power and propulsion, how fast you want the ship to go, is a big decision, because that drives the design. So we go through that process of concepts, and we reduce it to a number of options.

And then basically, we go to the senior guys in the Navy, the Navy board sit down, as they did at the end of 2011, and we present the options, and then using their military judgement , they make a decision on the big capability. So it was then that we decided that ASW would be in the DNA, because if you don't do it from day one, you can't retrofit, re-engineer a ship to become quiet. You've got to design and build a quiet ship, you can't just add it at a later date. So at the end of 2011, the big capability decisions were made by the Navy Board, and that sets the framework for the detailed work to carry on.

So the journey has been around about six years since that capability decision point, and we are today, where ... We're cutting steel on HMS Glasgow already, a couple of months ago, and we're on that journey.

Phil Tarrant: And I'm sure you can't give too much away, but if you could explain to our listeners, what makes the Type 26 so quiet?

Andy Keller: Well, interestingly, this is the largest frigate the Royal Navy has ever built, and a lot of people think a large ship can't be quiet, but that's not true. We had an awful lot of success with the Type 23 when we introduced in the late '80s in their design electric motors. Well, electric motor technology has moved on massively, so we've got a ship that's twice the size of a Type 23 with the same sized motor. But because today's technology is far more ... Power-dense, is the technical term for the electric motors, so we cut away a lot of the noise-making machinery by going to electric motor. You walk down the street and you don't look right at an electric car, you don't even know it's there. It's the same in the maritime world.

The other key aspect, as well, and the analogy that you could use on the domestic front, sometimes you turn your hot and cold tap on and you get lots of vibration, because there's air, or cavitation, in the system. That's the same on board a ship. So if you can reduce that internal noise, you reduce your underwater signature. So simple things, like the bend radius of a pipe, has a massive effect, when you times it by the hundreds and thousands of different pipes and fluid systems on board a ship. If you can reduce that noise by 10%, it's a massive change. So simple things, like not having right-angle bends in pipes. Sounds really simple, but it's really effective.

But you've got to have, let's say, the discipline, to maintain that, because it usually costs you a little bit more money, it usually costs you a little bit more space, which means the ship grows bigger, and there's always that pressure, particularly financial pressure, to keep that as low as possible. And it's that balance between building that DNA into the ship, so that you actually get the lowest signature for the price you can afford, in effect.

Phil Tarrant: And Rich, what do your colleagues think about the Type 26? So from your senior officers all the way through to your sailors, are they quite excited about getting their hands on one of these?

Richard H.: Yeah, definitely. And the Type 23 was brought in some years ago, and it was due to last for a certain number of years, and it's going to go on for a bit longer. So looking forward to the next generation of ships, like anything, you see something bright and shiny and it's always going to be positive. And the 26 is going to be exactly like that. It comes in at the same time as, we're investing, as I've already said, in ASW in a very, very serious way.

The UK is investing so much in so many different programmes, so you've got the P-8s coming online, you've got the Merlin Mk 2 which has come into service, which is a superb aircraft that I've operated with on my last deployment. You look at the Type 26 coming in, you look at the Astute boats coming online. And then beyond that, you've got Dreadnought coming into service in the next decade. So ASW is a really, really key area that we're investing in heavily. And so actually, to see a ship like the Type 26, which is an ASW frigate, it's going to be the ASW command platform of choice, is a great, great piece to have coming forward.

But it's all the other capabilities that it brings. 23s when they were first designed, yes they were a towed array frigate, but they evolved into so much more. Well, you look at Type 26 and what's already being built into it, you've got Mk 41 silo, whereby you've got so many different missiles that can be slotted into it, from land attack to anti-submarine rocket torpedoes, for extending your range, to extend range of fire with a five inch gun. You name it, there's so much more future capability that's in there, that 26 is going to bring to the party by 2025.

And similarly, you've got a mission bay, and let's not forget that. That's a serious bit of real estate on the ship. As a future capability guy, then, for me that space is pure vision, of, what can I do with that? So the challenge to me, as an ASW man, is how can I fill that space with ASW equipment? So you can look at UAVs, USVs, UXVs, with all the emerging technology that autonomy is looking to bring to the future. And we've already trialled some of it in Unmanned Warrior, just starting to understand the process. And yes, there's a long way to go, but between now and 2025, when that ship comes into service, and beyond, there we've got the opportunity to understand and then to deliver that mass and wide area surveillance that you need to do, to do anti-submarine warfare properly.

Phil Tarrant: Yeah. And Andy, how are you finding working with BAE across this programme? I know you are embedded pretty tight with them as this goes through this process of delivery. How's that relationship shaping up?

Andy Keller: Yeah, I've worked in the acquisition world on and off for the last 15 years, in between frontline jobs on ships, and this is the most integrated job I've ever had. So we sit in Bristol, and you've got British Aerospace, you've got MoD engineers, commercial and contract staff, and then there's, me and my little team from Navy Command sit right in the middle, the hub of the wheel. And actually, if you walked onto the floor plate, you wouldn't know who was BAE, who was MoD, who was Royal Navy, it truly has been a team effort, and it's really good to see.

One of the really powerful things that I've seen in the last 15 months in this job, is that I can immerse myself in the design because of the digitalization of the design tools that we're using, and I can bring sailors in, and we can crawl all over the ship, and actually change things. Because we know, if we can do it before we've actually built the thing, then that is the best way ahead, because if you try and make changes further down the line, as soon as it's in service then the cost in financial terms and downtime for the ship just escalates massively. So yeah, it's a truly integrated team between BAE, the MoD, and the Royal Navy.

Phil Tarrant: Well, I know the MoD and the government's highly invested in this programme, and they're really championing the Australian government's choice of the Type 26 as part of the SEA 5000 programme. Obviously, you guys are out here today to try and fly the flag for that particular solution, and what would it mean for you and the Royal Navy for Australia to also choose this? Would it help with interconnectivity, interoperability?

Richard H.: Well, I think the UK and Australia work very closely together already in this domain, we share a lot of information, and so we're very, very closely linked. Who buys which ship is entirely a matter for the Australians. Of course, if they bought the UK option, then that does make it easier to share that information, you can develop together, work together. But even if they didn't, then we will still have that historic relationship we've always had with Australia, of sharing information, improving ultimately in the anti-submarine warfare domain.

Andy Keller: And Richard's a warfare officer and an operator, and similarly I'm an engineer by trade. It would be great, just talking to my oppo, who, there's quite a few ex-RN guys in the Aussie Navy, and just being able to pick up the phone and talk to a mate about similar issues is massive, and would be fantastic. But it'll be what it’ll be, and if it is it'll be fantastic for us to be able to do that in the future.

Phil Tarrant: Well, we'll see how it all shapes out. It's obviously a very competitive programme, and here at Pacific 2017, you just have to walk around and see the stands here, and we obviously have Navantia and Fincantieri here, out in force, looking to influence the powers that be, whether or not they choose their solution or the Type 26. But I was fortunate, as I mentioned beforehand, to bookend this chapter to spend a bit of time out in Glasgow during that steel cutting, and the passion and dedication, both from the Royal Navy, but also from BAE with this programme, is considerable. So we'll see how it goes, it's good.

Well, I hope you guys enjoy your time here in Sydney, and I'm sure you'll be out again, so make sure you keep connected and let us know what's happening, but yeah, thanks for joining us on the podcast, really appreciate it.

Richard H.: You're welcome, thanks very much.

Andy Keller: Thanks.

Richard H.: Cheers.

Phil Tarrant: Nice one. And remember to check out DefenceConnect.com.au. If you're not receiving our daily market intelligence and news, DefenceConnect.com.au/subscribe. Thanks for joining us, I do appreciate it, we'll be back again soon. Until then, bye-bye.