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Super Hornet “Growler” is a possibility for RAAF Credit: Boeing.
As far as the author is aware there is no official history of Australia’s
endeavours in indigenous Electronic Warfare (EW) projects in Australia,
but if there was then the Defence Research Laboratories at Salisbury in
South Australia would undoubtedly be the principle player, with some
support from Australian Industry. Attempts for Australia to achieve a degree
of self-relaince started about 30 years ago. Regrettably the performance of
the players, although earnest, was significantly limited by lack of financial
support and direction from Defence at the time, whose interest appeared
fixed on overseas suppliers and the US Government - the latter frequently
through the US FMS organization - whenever a new product was required.
The theme used for all major purchases was low risk, proven performance,
secure delivery and sometimes a firm price (FMS excepted) - a formula
that Australian Industry had difficulty eclipsing. But not infrequently the
“idol had clay feet”.
During the period from 1980 until around 2006, the EW business looked
good because the Royal Australian Air Force in particular realized that it
owned a significant number of aircraft of different types that were either
not equipped with EW self-protection or that the equipment that was
installed was obsolete. Participation in the Gulf and Iraq wars brought that
realization home to roost. This led to the rise of two EW favourites, Project
Echidna and a collaborative activity with the US known as PA-10 . The
Royal Australian Navy was also becoming disturbed that its self-defence
measures for capital ships were also bordering on obsolescence but
remained largely inactive. Finally, the Army continued to invest in EW in a
small way - mainly in sensor systems that complemented the development
of a tactical, “force-centric capability”.
Beyond 2010, new opportunities for EW are clearly limited since new
aircraft acquisition programs are based on complete packages, that include
EW systems for self-protection. This is especially the case for purchases
such as the Joint Strike Fighter and the Super Hornet.
The Navy has only five new capital ships being built in the near term
budget and the selection of a truly indigenous company to satisfy the
Navy’s EW needs is unlikely, though bit-part opportunities will arise.
The Army presents a different image, because it is pursuing the use
of Industry in higher technology EW programs. The opportunities for
small, smart, SMEs with strong EW skills are considered to be fair, but
will be focused on the development of systems using almost all imported
components. At least they will get involved in systems development.
So, indigenous development of EW self-protection systems in Australia
is now past its nadir and it will fairly certainly follow the demise of other,
now past, passions by Defence for things such as missiles (Malkara, Ikara,
Turana target) and sonars (Mulloka, BarraBuoy, Karriwarra Towed array) -
all initially Government Labs and Industry developments, which have left
but a trace (Karriwarra, Barra Buoy and Nulka) after all those endeavours
and a great deal of money.
Yet there are a small number of CTD and PA-10 projects that push EW
higher-level technologies out into Industry. These projects are strongly
The slow death
of Australian EW
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