Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR Dec 2010 to Jan 2011 Contents www.chemring.com.au
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The fundamental purpose of the ADF is to protect Australia, preferably by
having sufficient strength to deter attacks in the first place. If the only danger
the RAN faced was from swarm boats there would be no need to have Air
Warfare Destroyers or even Frigates. Submarines would be completely useless.
The fact is that the Navy – like the other forces – have to be structured in such
a way as to handle a large number of contingencies, up to and including the
worst case scenario of full scale conventional warfare. In circumstances where
Australia might be fighting alone, with individual ships away from air cover,
the ability of Australian naval helicopters to undertake operations against
major enemy surface combatants would seem to be highly desirable.
AIR 9000 phase 8 is also called the Future Naval Air Combat System project
and on this basis alone it seems strange that weapon performance will not
form part of the evaluation criteria. If a long-range genuine anti-ship missile
in the form of the Penguin was good enough for the Seasprites one would
hope that the same logic still applies today.
The Mk 54 lightweight torpedo that will equip Romeos is also part of the
US “family” concept discussed earlier. It is an upgrade of the venerable Mk
46 designed to improve performance in shallow water but maintaining the
old propulsion system. This is a uniquely American method, using Otto
fuel rather than batteries. This propellant is a mixture of three synthetic
substances and for the chemists out there they are: propylene glycol nitrate;
2-nitrodiphenylamine and dibutyl sebacate.
Otto fuel is considered toxic and over-exposure to it produces unpleasant
effects such as headaches, nausea, loss of balance, poor hand-eye coordination,
nasal congestion, eye irritation and breathing difficulties. The effects of long-
term exposure are unknown. It is also expensive and difficult to procure.
The MU90 is an electrically driven lightweight torpedo with excellent
performance in all conditions. In fact it is so good is it that it was selected
by Australia a decade ago in a direct competition against the Mk 54 and is
currently being fitted to RAN’s Anzac frigates, FFGs and will go on the new
‘Hobart’ Class air warfare destroyers – all of which will embark the helicopters
being purchased via AIR 9000 phase 8.
The introduction of the MU90 into service has been a slow and tedious
affair as described by the Australian National Audit Office. But this has
nothing to do with the torpedo itself, which is a proven product. Instead the
difficulties have largely been a consequence of Defence’s own procedures and
processes, resulting in a scaling back of the project.
It has been suggested that in a time of conflict or during operations
involving the USN, Australia would be better off with the Mk 54 because of
ease of re-supply. This is a dangerous and untestable assertion. If Australia
was at war and the US was not, then it is possible that the RAN would indeed
receive replacement Mk 54 torpedoes quickly. But in the far more likely event
that we were in a conflict together the natural instinct of the USN would be to
look after their own interests first. Any captain who gave away some of their
key anti-submarine weapons to an ally and whose ship was subsequently
sunk by an enemy submarine would be declared insane. As the British soon
discovered during the Falklands war, anti-submarine torpedoes are used at
a prodigious rate – basically being fired whenever an underwater contact is
made in case it is a submarine. The consequences of not doing so could be
catastrophic – waiting for a submarine to be confirmed as such might allow
it enough time to fire torpedoes at surface ships, including aircraft carriers. In
a time of war, any navy that has lightweight torpedoes will in all probability
keep them for their own use.
With this in mind, for reasons of self-reliance Australia has an assembly
line for MU90s and could produce more of them if required and given some
As is the case for the missiles, it is hard to understand why the matter of the
torpedo apparently does not form part of the fundamental decision-making
matrix for Phase 8. At the very least Australia should specify that the MU90
will be integrated onto whichever helicopter is selected. This is the case for
Denmark, where the MU90 will equip that navy’s MH-60Rs.
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