Strong growth forecast
Kym Bergmann / Darling Harbour
The biannual Pacific 2012 international maritime exhibition, held in Sydney in late January and early February, continues to show steady growth in the number of exhibitors – a reflection of growing prospects for business in the naval sector. In his keynote speech at the associated sea power conference, Defence Minister Stephen Smith made it clear that the Indian Ocean, as well as the Pacific, is of increasing strategic importance:
“In this century, the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Rim will become the world’s centre of gravity.”
“The Asia-Pacific is home to four of the world’s major powers and five of the world’s largest militaries – the United States, Russia, China, India, and North Korea.
“The Asia-Pacific is also home to many of the world’s largest navies – including the navies of the United States, China, Russia, and India.”
The Minister stressed the growing importance of India, which he says has been under-appreciated. As the world’s largest democracy and as an emerging economic superpower, its strategic weight is certain to increase. He also emphasized the importance of the Indian Ocean:
“The countries of the Indian Ocean Rim are home to more than 2.6 billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population.
“The security of its waters goes to the heart of global, regional and Australian strategic interests.”
In making those remarks, the Minister hinted that the current Force Posture Review needs to take these facts into account when examining questions of where to base military assets. It is not hard to work out that places such as Exmouth will become of increasing importance to the ADF.
At the associated exhibition, there were a record 411 participants – one more than in 2010. All of the major maritime companies were present – hardly surprising given the billions of dollars that will be spent in the coming years on new submarines, frigates and – if SEA 1180 goes ahead in its present form – new multi-purpose combatants.
Regarding the future submarine, many companies have been frustrated by what seems to be slow progress to date. No one wanted to be quoted because of the usual fear of retribution from Defence if they stepped out of line and expressed an opinion at variance with officialdom, but there is a growing belief that the Collins Class might need to be replaced sooner rather than later. This is not a view shared by all. If the timing identified in the White Paper of a replacement submarine needing to be available by 2025, things need to start moving soon.
One company that is happy with things related to SEA 1000 is UK engineering services company Babcock, which made several announcements at the show – including:
“Babcock has been contracted to undertake a study into the possible requirement for a Submarine Propulsion Energy, Support and Integration Facility (SPESIFy), which would inform engineering development of the future submarines. The scope of the study includes identification of the benefits that can be realised from such land-based test facilities, and the related technology de-risking aspects.”
The company says it has assembled a team of experts with global experience to undertake the work, which will be located in Adelaide. Additional work will be undertaken by Frazer-Nash Consultancy, Converteam, Ricardo and PMB. Babcock also announced that testing of the assembled Mk32 Mod 9 torpedo launchers for the Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers is underway at the firm’s Techport Australia premises. Finally, they also announced a move to new premises at Henderson in Western Australia – foreshadowing a more recent announcement that they have won the ANZAC Frigate in-service support contract.
(TASHA, please locate this next section in a separate box)
Thales demonstrates Fibre Laser Sensor in Sydney Harbour
Thales Australia demonstrated its innovative Fibre Laser Sensor technology in Sydney Harbour as part of the Pacific 2012 International Maritime Exposition.
The company is a leader in underwater systems, operating a Centre of Excellence in Rydalmere, NSW. The Fibre Laser Senor (FLS) technology is another example of technological success in this field.
The FLS is a rapidly deployable sea-bed surveillance array representing the next generation of underwater surveillance solutions. Lightweight, ultra-thin and cost effective, an FLS array can be dropped from a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) and almost immediately provide an underwater surveillance capability.
“FLS technology is of real significance at a time when terrorist threats are increasing,” said Chris Jenkins, Thales Australia CEO. “This technology could play an important role in border protection, deployed to protect a harbour for example, or in a force protection role, deployed around a ship to warn it about incoming surface or underwater threats.
“The technology also has commercial applications, and could be used as a seismic array to survey seabeds, for example.
“We would like to thank the Department of Defence for supporting this innovation through its investment in the FLS via the Capability and Technology Demonstrator (CTD) program. We also acknowledge the close cooperation of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and the Royal Australian Navy, who have played key roles in this program’s development.”
FLS technology uses electro-optic hydrophones (underwater microphones) to convert underwater sounds to light signals. An FLS device is embedded inside the hydrophone’s fibre-optic glass. When the hydrophone picks up the underwater noise made by another ship or submarine, the actual shape of the device changes. This change in dimensions is used to transmit the acoustic information via a light signal back along the cable, where a processor provides information about the signal to the operator.
The information coming from many underwater sensors can then be processed to provide information on the direction the underwater noise is coming from and its strength, giving the operator an indication of where another ship or submarine is, how many propellers and blades it might have, and even what direction it is traveling. The low attenuation of the optical signals potentially enables an FLS array to be several kilometres long.
(End of section)
Another company with a deep interest in the future submarine is Spain’s Navantia, already a strong presence in Australia via the Air Warfare Destroyers and Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs). Navantia gave several presentations on the S-80 submarine, which is a credible contender for SEA 1000 – especially if Australia goes down the relatively low risk MOTS path. Though not yet in the water, the S-80 is an ocean going, long-range submarine with a US combat system supplied by Lockheed Martin and a considerable weapon load, including land strike missiles. Into the bargain it will feature an innovative Air Independent Propulsion system.
Submarines were also a theme with Rafael in the form of a torpedo defence system, which could be incorporated on the Collins Class as well as its eventual replacement. Marketed as ‘Torbuster’, this is a hard kill mini-torpedo that had its origins as a decoy. The company discovered that the decoy worked so well that torpedoes were attracted straight to it, and so they added a small explosive – small so as not to detonate the main warhead – and voilà have come up with a solution to a very taxing problem.
In addition, Rafael were also showcasing their ‘Protctor’ unmanned surface vessel. Work on this small high-speed craft started around a decade ago with the company drawing particularly on its considerable command and control experience. The system now has four customers, though the company is not allowed to name them. ‘Protector’ can now be regarded as a fully mature system and the company believes they have a considerable lead over their competitors.
Of the major US companies, Raytheon had a strong presence with a focus on their family of naval missiles and defensive systems. These start at last line self-defence with Phalanx, then the next layer with the Rolling Airframe Missile, then Evolved Sea Sparrow – all the way through the Standard series of missiles with SM-3 able to provide Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence. This gives Raytheon an enormous amount of expertise in this field and it is difficult to think of another company that is able to offer naval defensive systems of such scope. A near term activity will be the development of the Block II ESSM, which will feature a dual-mode seeker. The company is actively engaged in migrating many of these naval systems to land-based applications.
Lockheed Martin provided an update on the RAN’s order of 24 MH-60Rs and felt comfortable with the status of the project, hinting that some aspects were ahead of schedule. They used the show to announce further details regarding their efforts to assist Australian companies become part of their global supply chain and will have two people working fulltime in the United States for this purpose.
Finally, Norway’s Kongsberg keeps popping up everywhere. They have developed the Australian Tactical Interface for the AWDs that allows non-US systems to interface with Aegis – having previously undertaken similar work on Norway’s ‘Nansen’ Class and South Korea’s KDX-III – and now it transpires that they are providing engine room simulators for Australia’s LHDs. They are also working closely with Raytheon developing future missile systems. Not bad for a country of 4 million people and a defence budget one quarter of Australia’s.