Environmental information. A thirst for knowledge

As the Australian Defence Force moves down the path of Network Centric Warfare and with a greater emphasis on amphibious operations the importance of accurate and timely environmental information is of increasing importance. As CDF General David Hurley has recently observed, there are around 25,000 islands and 85,000 kilometres of navigable waterways in the region between the Eastern Indian Ocean and the South West Pacific. This is a huge area across which the ADF must plan to operate and of which it must maintain situational awareness.

6th Mar 2012


 Environmental information.

 A thirst for knowledge

Kym Bergmann / Canberra 

 

As the Australian Defence Force moves down the path of Network Centric Warfare and with a greater emphasis on amphibious operations the importance of accurate and timely environmental information is of increasing importance. As CDF General David Hurley has recently observed, there are around 25,000 islands and 85,000 kilometres of navigable waterways in the region between the Eastern Indian Ocean and the South West Pacific. This is a huge area across which the ADF must plan to operate and of which it must maintain situational awareness.

On the hardware part of the equation, a major contribution will be made by the two massive Landing Helicopter Docks currently under construction. Once in service in the second half of this decade they will make a huge difference to the ADF’s ability to project force as well as to deliver humanitarian assistance and contribute to disaster relief. There are a large number of projects that will directly or indirectly support the operations of the LHDs.

When it comes to providing data that will allow the safe and effective operations of the LHDs, top of the list are:

Project JP 1770 Phase 1: Maritime Rapid Environmental Assessment (First Pass 2011/12)

JP 2044 Phase 3A.1 and onwards: A multiphase geospatial information project (First Pass 2011 / 12 for 3A.1 and 4A)

JP 2064 Phase 3 Geospatial Information Infrastructure Services (First Pass 2011/12 or 2012/13)

SEA 1778 Deployable Mine Countermeasures (First Pass 2011 / 12)

So three out of these four projects are scheduled for First Pass Approval in the remaining four months of the financial year – which looks like being a big ask. The two projects that are not yet underway – SEA 1778 and JP 1770 – do not have any feel of urgency about them, though given the present opaque nature of Defence’s internal decision making processes anything is possible.

JP 1770

Joint Project 1770 is designed to provide the ADF with information relevant to operations in a littoral environment at short notice – a kind of rapidly deployable, fast paced hydrographic service that will be able to provide data in days or possibly hours. It will probably involve the use of sensors – most likely sonars – carried by a small, fast moving boat, perhaps a RHIB. At least that is one concept. The project has a probable estimated value of $50 million. The Defence Capability Plan does not shed a lot of light on what the eventual solution will be, though it does contain the following statement:

“Rapid Environmental Assessment allows relevant geospatial and environmental information relating to a particular area of military operations to be collected, processed and disseminated to military planners, decision makers and operational forces in a coordinated, systematic and timely manner. This geospatial and environmental information includes hydrographic, topographic, meteorological, oceanographic, and atmospheric data that may be sourced
from both archived data and data collected in real-time.”

The Project has been de-scoped from earlier versions of the DCP to concentrate on the maritime domain. Having said that whatever system is procured will almost certainly provide data that is broader than what is occurring in any one particular field and the outputs will be of broader benefit to joint operations.

Industry remains in a state of some uncertainty about what a solution will look like because to date not a lot of documentation has been released. The environmental data will need to be collected in some manner, hence the suggestion of a small boat and because it will need to be done at speed it could be either a manned or unmanned solution. To enable rapid deployment it would have to be supported by relatively simple laptop-based information technology and communications systems.

The concept is that whatever is acquired will be complementary to the capability provided by Navy’s two large hydrographic ships and associated motor survey launches. The idea is that through JP 1770 it will be possible to provide an on-the-spot more agile capability to a task group to check if there have been any recent changes to the operating environment. A recent example of the sort of mission being envisaged took place in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, when apparently the ADF sent equipment to the port city of Sendai to quickly examine the sea floor and assess whether large relief ships could safely enter.

In other words JP 1770 seems to have the intention of providing more basic data than that able to be provided by the hydrographic service, with a necessarily narrow focus. Linked to the Sendai example, a task force commander might only want to know of a particular area whether there is enough draught to allow all of his ships to safely enter.

SEA 1778

A related project is SEA 1778 – organic, deployable mine countermeasures – which has been around for years. It is one of many projects that has been serially delayed and no-one in industry has any confidence that the DCP target of First Pass Approval will be achieved this calendar year, let alone in the current financial year. It is rumoured that the First Pass Approval paperwork has been sitting in Minister Smith’s in-tray since November. As a consequence an industry brief scheduled for February after the Pacific 2012 naval conference was cancelled.

Even though Australia has six ‘Houn’ Class minehunters these are quite slow moving and the idea behind SEA 1778 is that a task group should have the ability to take care of minehunting tasks within its own resources. Several countries – including Australia – have been playing around with the use of deployable uninhabited underwater vessels (UUVs) able to undertake minehunting and survey tasks for years. Indeed in 2008 the Defence Science & Technology Organisation trained the RAN to use one of their UUVs to survey Sydney Harbour as a security precaution before the visit of the Pope. In addition, the RAN uses the Saab ‘Double Eagle’ UUV for minehunting, and Thales Underwater has a wealth of experience in this domain – so when things start to move there should be a lot of industry experience to support the effort.

However, there is a view within a section of the RAN that the capability being sought after is actually surplus to requirements and that in fact nothing is needed between now and when SEA 1180 – the multipurpose offshore combatant – replaces the coastal minehunters a decade hence. If this view prevails SEA 1778 could be a contender to be further delayed or cancelled – helping the Government kill two birds with one stone: end the 15% over programming of the DCP and also save some more money to assist the budget return to surplus in 2012 – 13.

JP 2044

The next phases of JP 2044 are 3A.1 and 4A. In the words of Defence, the project is a multi-phased proposal designed to develop and sustain a Defence capability to exploit geospatial data gathered from multiple sources including space-based surveillance. Asked about prospects for First Pass for these phases in 2011 – 12 the Department responded:

“JP2044 Phase 3A.1 is progressing as scheduled with a decision expected before the end of the 2011-12 financial year. Formal market solicitation in support of this phase of the project is yet to occur.

“A component of JP2044Ph4 has been progressed independently, and achieved government approval in 2011. This early acquisition allowed for the realisation of some capability and the remainder of Ph4 and advice to government on the remainder is expected to follow.”

Phase 2A was delivered by Lockheed Martin Corporation. Phase 2B was met by Lockheed Martin Corporation, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Australia Limited.

JP 2064

JP 2064 is another multi-phase activity designed to provide geospatial information and infrastructure services. The current activity – Phase 3 – has a value around the $200 million figure and is scheduled for First Pass in either the current financial year or in 2012-13. In the words of the Department, Phase 3 seeks to introduce a “new paradigm” where information will be provided by internal and external sources and can be accessed by all users on the network at any time – fixed or deployed.

The ICT system will use open interfaces, perform on multiple computing platforms, be dynamic and adaptable to evolving users and incorporate legacy systems data while retaining technical integrity. And being able to turn lead into gold at the same time would presumably be a further advantage.

Conclusion.

These are but four of a number of projects important to the transformation of the ADF into an amphibious-oriented, networked force. There is a lot that needs to happen between now and 30 June to stay on track.


 

APDR at a glance