With half of the world's submarines expected to be operating in the Indo-Pacific in the next two decades, Australia's need for a highly capable, survivable ASW frigate is paramount to ensuring that the Navy can adequately protect the nation and the key sea lines of communication (SLOC) in the event of hostility. Enter BAE's Hunter Class frigate. Based on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the vessel will form the backbone of the nation's surface combat capability out until the 2040s.
ASW is a branch of underwater warfare that uses surface warships, aircraft and/or allied submarines to find, track and deter, damage, or destroy enemy submarines. Successful ASW depends on a mix of sensor and weapon technology, training and experience.
The Hunter Class will have the capability to conduct a variety of missions independently, or as part of a task group, with sufficient range and endurance to operate effectively throughout the region, according to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
When announcing the next-generation frigates, the Prime Minister said that the ships would provide the Australian Defence Force with “the highest levels of lethality and deterrence our major surface combatants need in periods of global uncertainty".
Broadly speaking, the ships will include the incorporation of the leading-edge Australian-developed CEA phased array radar and the US Navy’s powerful Aegis combat management system. With an Australian interface developed by Saab Australia, the Hunter Class will be one of the most capable multi-role warships in the world.
While Aegis is a formidable combat management system, it is the ASW suite that will ensure that the new Hunter Class vessels can operate effectively individually, in a task group protection role or in broader conjunction with allied forces. This is where Ultra Electronics and its ASW systems come into play to provide the Hunter with the tools necessary to stalk the traditional hunter of the surface ships on the high seas, submarines.
Ultra Electronics regional director, Australia and New Zealand, Bernard Mills said, "Ultra will provide two of the three main ASW elements on the vessels. The first is the S2150 Hull Mounted Sonar, which is a very high-performance system that has also taken big steps forward in design for efficient through-life maintenance and optimised on-board footprint. The second is the S2170 Surface Ship Torpedo Defence system, in service with the Royal Navy and currently being delivered to New Zealand. These sit with Thales’ S2087 Variable Depth Sonar to form the Future Frigate’s core ASW systems."
As with the broader SEA 5000 program, the ASW systems and integration will be heavily defined by the government's focus on Australian industrial content (AIC) and technology transfer to Australia. Ultra Electronics’ role will see over 60 per cent of the ASW systems installed on the Hunter Class delivered by Australians in country, which the company believes will open up a new level of technical know-how and innovation at a domestic level.
System commonality between the new Hunter Class and Australia's Hobart Class Guided Missile Destroyers, which Ultra also provided with key ASW technology, will provide the perfect opportunity for the Australian interface, based on Saab's 9LV system, to show its true power, while ensuring that the fleet’s major surface combatants are all acting with the same systems.
"The decision of the Commonwealth to mandate an Australian interface based on 9LV within the combat system architecture was an excellent one. It has to be recognised that the Australian Interface is a pretty unique opportunity for a whole range of companies to support SAAB in the development of what will be a truly Australian multi-sensor and multi-effector control layer for this kind of vessel. I’m also really heartened that this will occur not only for SEA 5000 but also SEA 4000 Phase 6, so that there will be a level of commonality between the combat system architectures and interfaces of the Hobart and Hunter Classes," said Mills.
Ultra was quick to highlight the network-centric capabilities of its ASW systems, particularly those installed on the Hobart Class and the foundation for interoperability and the distributed lethality afforded through the integration of multiple ASW, aerial and surface warfare assets like P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and ASW aircraft, MH-60R Romeo Seahawks and MQ-4C Tritons with both Hobart and Hunter Class vessels, ensuring that the systems can interact and convey messages, quickly, efficiently and shorten the kill chain in event of hostile engagement.
Elaborating further, Mills said, "The good news is that in carrying the S2150 Hull Mounted Sonar, the Type 26 already inherits a good portion of this integrated processing layer as well as common user screens and functionality. So rather than reinvent the wheel with a developmental system or something that doesn’t have that important commonality, we see our role as working with the RAN and BAE, and again importantly SAAB so that it sits with the Australian interface, in the evolution of our ASW control layer to best suit the Hunter Class design, sensors and intended concept of operations (CONOPS)."
Ultra has embraced the government's commitment to developing sovereign capabilities and has seen steady growth since establishing the business locally a decade ago. SEA 5000 and the Air Warfare Destroyer program have provided opportunities for the company to establish itself as a market leader.
It is planned that this will see further technical growth, which will occur through a combination of recruitment and key personnel transfers from the broader Ultra Electronics business, particularly as the British Type 26 program continues to evolve and progress and should the Canadian future surface combatant program select the Type 26, providing opportunity for international growth, best practice, experience and knowledge transfer between the partners.