The $35 billion Hunter Class program is set to revolutionise the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities of the Royal Australian Navy. Future-proofing the ASW capabilities of these vessels is a key part of David Eyles of Thales' role delivering the leading-edge capability required for the future.
The Hunter class is billed as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) centric vessel delivering an advanced ASW capability to the Royal Australian Navy at a time when 50 per cent of the world’s submarines will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region.
BAE Systems Australia announced that it had selected Lockheed Martin Australia and Saab Australia as combat systems integration industry partners, responsible for delivering the Australian designed CEAFAR 2 Active Phased Array Radar, Lockheed Martin designed the Aegis combat management system and Saab Australia the 9LV tactical interface.
Centred around the AN/SPY-1 radar, Aegis is a fully integrated combat management system, providing full 360-degree, 3D tracking capacity. Aegis is capable of simultaneously defending against attack from land targets, submarines and surface ships while automatically protecting the fleet against aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
The $35 billion program sees ASC Shipbuilding become a subsidiary of BAE Systems throughout the build process beginning in 2020 at the Osborne Shipyard in South Australia, creating more than 4,000 jobs.
In this edition of On Point, Defence Connect spoke with David Eyles, capture leader for the SEA 5000 program to discuss the next-generation anti-submarine warfare technology to be introduced to Australia's Hunter Class frigates, providing the Royal Australian Navy with a world-leading ASW capability at a time when approximately half of the world's submarines will be operating in Indo-Pacific Asia.
As we know the Hunter Class is based on the Royal Navy's Type 26 ASW frigates, what ASW technology similarities will there be between the Royal Navy and RAN vessels and what does that mean for Australian industry?
The large amount of work is now working with a UK counterpart who delivered S2087 system into the Type 23, and will go into the Type 26. For us, it's now understanding that technology in terms of an Australian manufacture. We've been very committed to maximising our Australian industry capability and supporting that product in Australia, and making sure that we really have that sovereign capability that's so, I guess, well-desired by our customer.
Type 26 will have what is called a a multi-static solution. A multi-static solution is built on good ASW sensors, which includes a dip sonar, sonar-buoys, USVs - potentially with underwater sensors, that really makes up the big picture, but as you said, it's about connectivity. So it's really about, scientifically, you transmit on one acoustic source, and then receive on one or more passive receivers, whether that be another Hunter class with their low frequency tail or whether it be on a passive sonar buoy.
Why this focus on a multi-static ASW solution for the Hunter Class? How will it improve the ASW capabilities of the RAN?
Multi-staticism is an attractive goal for any Navy, and Western navies have spent a lot of time and money investigating how they can utilise this to gain some sort of operational advantage.
It's been around since the 1950s in concept, and up until the 1980s, ships ran around with just passive detection. Then what happened was Russian subs became much quieter, so then we started looking at active sonar in order to provide us an opportunity to detect those submarines.
Submarines have gotten, once again, quieter and we're now playing that cat and mouse game where we're trying to improve our ability to detect a submarine whilst protecting a task group or task force. Now, the Australian customer is a very ambitious one, in terms of wanting to achieve theatre ASW, as many of our allies are. Multi-static is really an enabler for that.
So being able to utilise multiple sensors, to help build your picture. It's about being able to have connectivity and share that picture amongst not only your own force but your allies to try and isolate that submarine and be able to have an effect on it when you need to.
I think multi-statics is a key enabler to theatre ASW, because theatre ASW is about that big picture, being able to understand where every submarine is so you can either avoid them or cause some effect to them. Multi-statics just helps you build that picture, and helps you fight to that picture through elements such as track fusion.
How are new platforms like the P-8 Poseidon and next-generation technologies like USVs going to support the Hunter's capabilities?
The idea is that anything with a sensor on it can be part of that ASW picture. It's about giving the best coverage you can and sometimes the most effective way to do that is through sonobuoys, which are deployed either out of a helicopter or an aircraft such as a P8, or it's USVs that are persistent.
In terms of multi-statics, Thales has a product that's being developed collaboratively between France, the UK, and Australia, and it captures a generation worth of knowledge around sonars and operations of sonars, and that's interaction, both internally and with our customers.
What we've created is a three-country core of BlueScan, but in terms of what we would be looking to offer into SEA 5000, it's taking that core and then understanding the requirements of our own domestic customer, growing it, and inserting that sovereign capability.
I think the sensors that we produce are great and they have a great operational effect. The connectivity is really the next big problem. Multi-statics assumes that you have no restrictions over your communication network. So bandwidth, in the case of when you're watching Netflix, it's a similar sort of issue. The quicker the data rates, the bigger that information pipe, the more data that you can receive, which means that you get a wider network, better connectivity, but we're nearly at that point where communications networks are at that right level.
Signal processing is at that right level. All the building blocks are there for a truly multi-static capability. It's now just making that leap. We're working hard, and we've invested a lot of money and time into being able to offer a solution like BlueScan. It's quite exciting for us, and hopefully it's quite exciting for what it could deliver to Hunter.
You can listen to the full podcast with David Eyles, Thales capture lead, SEA 5000 here.