Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR April 2016 Contents 44 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter APR 2016
While most of the emphasis has been on
the platforms Australia will acquire –
new frigates, submarines and offshore
patrol vessels in particular – it is worth sparing
a though for how they will defend themselves.
Equally important is the associated question of how
they will defend other assets that they are there to
protect – especially the huge, vulnerable LHDs and
the forthcoming replenishment ships – presumably
two ‘Cantabria’ class from Navantia.
These days surface ships have a particularly
demanding job just protecting themselves. When
you add in the need to defend the slab-side LHDs
– with a radar cross section the same as a massive
house brick – and the only slightly smaller support
ships the task becomes an order of magnitude
more difficult since a task group operating in waters
beyond Australia is likely to be centred on an LHD
and an accompanying replenishment ship. A U.S .
aircraft carrier is typically supported by at least
three powerful escort ships – and it can do a fairly
good job of protecting itself with four embarked
strike fighter squadrons, as well as other air assets.
If Australia is operating independently – and that
surely would be a realistic scenario in any high level
conflict - the task of protecting large and vulnerable
ships would also be shouldered by the RAAF,
which thanks to air-to-air refueling can achieve an
impressive level of regional coverage.
As for the RAN’s surface fleet, that will have
two important defensive assets – the Air Warfare
Destroyers and the Future Frigates. It seems unlikely
that the Offshore Patrol Combatants would be able
to play a meaningful role in high end scenarios.
The problem for the AWDs – apart from being
years late – is that the version of the Aegis radar
and fire control system currently being installed
was ordered way back in 2005 and is based on
a passive phased array solution. However, it will
remain in service with the USN for some time
and will be the subject of further upgrades and
The Future Frigates are likely to receive a greatly
expanded version of the CEA / Saab Anti-Ship
Missile Defence System (ASMD) currently being
installed on the ANZAC frigates. This Australian
solution – which we have detailed in many previous
articles – has been a stunning success. However,
the ANZAC frigates only fire relatively short range
ESSM protective missiles going out to a distance
of 50km, while the future frigates will carry the
much longer range SM-2. The good news for
the RAN is that the work on developing a much
longer range version of the CEA radars has been
progressing well and there seem to be no reasons
why they cannot satisfactorily be installed on the
Future Frigates, irrespective of which hull is chosen.
Since the ASMD solution can be carried on a
3,500 tonne ANZAC frigate, there should be few
problems fitting a scaled up version of it onto its
6,500 tonne replacement – and the feedback from
various designers chasing SEA 5000 confirms that
this is the case.
However, an even bigger threat comes from
submarines – and here the way forward is less
clear. The Air Warfare Destroyers will embark
one of the new MH-60R helicopters, which are
performing very well. However, the underwater
warfare suite of the ships has not yet been
proven and experienced a number of early delays.
And while the first of the Future Frigates will be
optimized for anti-submarine warfare, it is not yet
known precisely what will equip them. It is to be
hoped that they will embark two ASW helicopters
to prosecute submarines because no one can
recall the last time a non-cooperative submarine
was actually detected by a hull mounted sonar.
For the very demanding task of protecting the
LHDs, another thought might be to increase their
self-protection. They could not do much to counter
a submarine threat, but there is a lot of room for the
addition of extra gun and missile systems – even
something such as the bolt on cold launched Sea
Ceptor being acquired by the Royal New Zealand
Navy, or the new Israeli C-Dome system.
KYM BERGMANN // CANBERRA
SURFACE SHIP SELF DEFENCE A
The recently released Defence White Paper constitutes a kind of Australian mini pivot to Asia, based on the growing
economic importance of the region coupled with the rise of China. Of the six capability priorities identified in the White
Paper, it is no particular surprise that Maritime Operations and Anti-Submarine Warfare Forces are second on the list,
coming only after Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance. To meet the forthcoming challenges, Chief of Navy Admiral
Tim Barrett is fond of remarking that the Australian fleet will be going through its biggest expansion since 1913.
Sea Ceptor testing. Credit: MBDA
NAVAL FORCE PROTECTION
31/03/2016 6:47 PM
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