Defence Science and Technology scientists believe that the key to securing Australia’s maritime supremacy is understanding the ocean, which is at the core of DST’s support to the Royal Australian Navy’s environmental forecasting.
It’s well known that ocean conditions have a significant impact on undersea warfare systems and sensors, impacting the combat efficacy of both surface and submarine forces.
DST scientists Dr Mike Greening and Holly McNabb are leading research into supporting and enhancing Australia's understanding of the ocean and its impact on Navy operations.
"A lot of countries have very similar platforms and sonar systems. If you want to do better than your adversary, you have to use the equipment better," explained Dr Greening.
Ocean environmental models provide maps that are the ocean’s equivalent of weather patterns. They can identify, for example, areas where hull-mounted sonar performance is extremely poor, and where it is extremely good.
While patterns change more slowly in the ocean than in the atmosphere, the changes are physically sharper.
Dr Greening added, "Unless you have an ocean model that can generate these guides, you have no idea what’s out there. All you know are the conditions immediately around your ship at one moment in time, and only then if you take the time to drop an expendable bathythermograph (XBT) to check."
More accurate ocean models help the Royal Australian Navy make better decisions on where, when and how to employ sensors, and also with regard to mission or route planning.
The DST team shares its knowledge and insights with RAN counterparts through mentoring provided to principal warfare officers and sonar operators, including sessions on undersea systems and how the atmosphere and ocean affects those systems.
DST also uses a capability technology demonstrator to highlight the sorts of information that can be provided to maritime decision makers.
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McNabb joined the team six months ago, after working with sonar systems in various offshore environments including the North Sea and the Baltic, as well as Scandinavia.
She explained that the atmosphere plays a central role in the latest ocean modelling: "It’s a coupled system. The atmosphere absolutely affects what’s happening in the undersea environment. Dramatic climate events can also affect what’s happening underwater, so having the most accurate and comprehensive models ensures the warfighter is able to predict sensor performance."
The new interdisciplinary approach to modelling will mean working with teams from different specialities, fusing a wide range of information sources to sharpen the maritime warfighter’s toolkit.
If DST and Navy warfighters can accurately predict the ocean environment out to seven days, and successfully get those insights in front of Navy operators, that will give the RAN a whole different level of capability.