The troops of Australia’s Special Operations Command (SOCMD) having been doing a lot of ‘heavy lifting’ in recent years, particularly with continuous rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering numerous fatalities and serious injuries in the process.
30th Oct 2012
JP 2097 Phase 1B
Project REDFIN – Special Operations Mobility and Information Environment Upgrades
Byline: Geoff Slocombe / Victoria
The troops of Australia’s Special Operations Command (SOCMD) having been doing a lot of ‘heavy lifting’ in recent years, particularly with continuous rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering numerous fatalities and serious injuries in the process. Although that pattern of deployments has an end in sight for the main body of ADF personnel, a Special Forces role will continue in the Middle-East and other hot spots.
Therefore they need to be equipped with the best possible, yet affordable, equipment that Australia can supply.
An early upgrade has been to replace their hard worked Land Rover 6x6 Long Range Patrol Vehicles (LRPVs) with a sole-source acquisition from UK-based company Supacat Limited of 31 Special Operations Vehicles (SOVs), called the ‘Nary’ in honour of SAS Warrant officer and vehicle specialist David Nary who was killed in a 2005 training accident in Kuwait. These have an on-board management and communications system supplied and integrated by the US-based company Tactronics.
There have been some serious implementation problems with communications interference between internal systems, delaying introduction into service by about 3 years from the original planned date. Final Operational Capability (FOC) was declared by Chief of Army, as the Capability Manager, on 28 June 2012. The deliveries into Australia were supported by the Supacat Team Australia office, which includes up to 18 Australian industry partners. Supacat are well-placed for further vehicle opportunities through Project REDFIN.
A current Request for Information (RFI) was issued by the DMO for mobile information and communications technology – intended to inform the DMO’s project team about the capabilities, options, delivery schedules and possible costs of supply to SOCMD a highly secure network using lightweight personal devices both for their own purposes and also able to work in with the remainder of the ADF through the Defence Secret Network.
JP 2097 PROJECT REDFIN PHASE 1B
The public version of the 2012 Defence Capability Plan preamble identifies that “Phase 1B addresses the Command, Control, Communications and Computing, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) and Land Mobility deficiencies by providing a Networked Special Operations Capability (NSOC) and a modern fleet of Special Operations Vehicles.”
“Networked Special Operations Capability (NSOC). The NSOC provides an integrated information environment and a range of electronic systems to support the spectrum of Special Operations. This capability enhancement focuses on the key requirements of information exchange, information management, situational awareness, decision support and battlespace sensing. These systems are mostly light dismounted systems.”
“Land Mobility. The land mobility capability provides three fleets of vehicles to support the tactical manoeuvre of Special Operations and to replace obsolete vehicles. This capability enhancement would focus on the key requirements of mobility, survivability, sustainability, knowledge and lethality.”
Expected to cost in the range $100m – $300m (high end of the band), major purchases for this phase are likely to be delayed while Defence works its way through the cost savings they have to achieve. A delay of at least a further year from the original project schedule can be expected, meaning in particular that the venerable Land Rover 6x6 Perentie LRPVs will have to remain in service for a while yet.
The public DCP states First Pass Approval was completed in February 2011, with Year of Decision now to be FY2014-2015 to FY2015-2016, and Initial Operational Capability two years after that. The first production SOVs are unlikely to be delivered to Defence before the first quarter 2015.
RFI FOR NETWORK SPECIAL OPERATIONS CAPABILITY
There is a major project underway, JP 2047 Phase 3, to update Defence’s information environment and communications to allow authorised users to connect to Defence networks at any time, including through wireless technologies using both Defence and personal devices. For more information see “Terrestrial Communications –
Seeking the Holy Grail” APDR September 2012.
Project REDFIN will enable data fusion from deployed units, platforms, coalition partners and a wide range of sensors at sea, on the ground, in the air and outer space, to provide a clear operational picture for commanders.
When on operations Special Forces absolutely require reliable, secure, interference-free communications between all individual troops, their field leaders, and their chain of command. This includes when travelling in or on vehicles as well as when dismounted.
Some very clever information and communications systems are built into the existing Narys to provide a Common Recognised Operating Picture (CROP) to the crew. Defence wish to extend this capability further, particularly for dismounted operations where lightweight yet sophisticated personal communications capabilities are a must. The era of smart phones and tablet computers offers very interesting possibilities.
In August 2012 Defence issued a Request for Information – Network Special Operations Capability – Mobile Information and Communications Technology (RFI NSOC-MICT), with responses due by 26 November this year.
In the words of the RFI “The NSOC-MICT program is conducting an unfunded RFI regarding a proposal to design, develop and implement a secure mobile communications system for Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) users to access a limited set of applications and services hosted on the Special Operations Command Support System (SOCSS) network. The system will comprise of a smart phone capable of secure calls, a secure tablet PC, a gateway environment, and deployable cellular base station. The system will use Defence Signals Directorate Approved Cryptographic Algorithms (DACA) based on Suite B level encryption.”
“The system seeks to use advances in mobile device capabilities; and encryption techniques and protocols to provide SOCOMD users with a commercial style smart phone and tablet which will provide secure voice and data up to SECRET level.”
“The proposal seeks to avoid system risk and lifecycle by utilising application and device software hardening, supported by advanced encryption methods, to enable a hardware device agnostic approach”
“The NSOC-MICT proposes to deliver an integrated system of systems communications capability, ranging from interfaces to the SOCSS network to deployable base station systems that are sufficiently scalable and configurable to suit the range of SOCOMD operational deployment scenarios. Based on technology opportunities, the proposed system constitutes a significant shift from the perspective of security, maintainability, availability, simplicity and deployability.”
The SOCSS is connected to the Defence Secret Network, enabling any other specially authorised user of this network to communicate with SOCMD, its field HQ and beyond. This provides access to the CROP by intelligence analysts in forward headquarters and back in Australia and for their interpretations to be fed back to the field in support of operations. By carrying lightweight smart phones and tablet computers, troopers will have graphic images as well as text to guide them tactically and provide vital situational awareness of their own position, that of comrades and other friendly forces, as well as the enemy.
The NSOC-MICT RFI analysis is planned to be complete in January 2013, with a formal approach to the market (RFT) in February 2013. Second Pass Approval is scheduled for February 2015.
REPLACEMENT SPECIAL OPERATIONS VEHICLES
As noted above, Defence ordered 31 Supacats (Narys) “for reasons of operational urgency” in August 2008 for $80 million, but there have been delays in getting them into the field. FOC has finally been achieved for this extremely capable vehicle. It is understood some have now been deployed to Afghanistan. The UK military forces started ordering Supacat Jackals a year earlier and have now taken delivery of over 500 derivatives of the Supacat during the same period the ADF troops were waiting, without the same lengthy delays or problems.
Three fleets of SOVs will be acquired by JP2097 Phase 1B – somewhere between 40 and 80 SOV-Cdo (Commando), 9 x SOV-Log (Logistics) and 9 x SOV-Spt (Support). These may be chosen with a high level of commonality with the existing Narys. For example, the HMT Extenda is a close fit with the user requirements for the SOV-Cdo. The Coyote Tactical Support Vehicle also from Supacat and based on the HMT 600 6x6 chassis, is intended as a medium load carrier, artillery tractor, etc. and could, depending on fitout, fill the SOV-Log and SOV-Spt roles.
The second pass of the SOV-Cdo acquisition process started with an RFT issued in April 2011, with tenders evaluated from July 2011, resulting in the award of a Prototype Development and Evaluation (PD&E) contract. This contract is intended to minimise risks associated with integrating a variety of sub-systems into the vehicle platform.
A Military Off the Shelf (MOTS) solution was sought, but some modifications may be required for Australian design and road safety regulations. These will be identified during the two PD&E contract phases.
When asked by APDR if vehicle orders placed through Project REDFIN will have Tactronics systems on board, the Defence spokesperson said “No. Government directed at First Pass Approval for JP2097 Phase 1B to release a Direct Source request for tender to Elbit Land Systems of Australia (ELSA) for Systems Integration, to ensure interoperability between Special Forces and Army through procurement of the same Battle Management System introduced through Project Land 75. Elbit is the prime contractor for the Battle Group and below Command, Control and Communication system (BGC3), (informally known as Land 200) which is being jointly acquired by Land 75 Phase 3.4, Land 125 Phase 3A and JP2072 Phase 1”.
Following contract signature between DMO and Supacat on 9 March 2012, it was publicly announced in April that Supacat had been selected by the DMO as the preferred bidder for the Special Operations Vehicle element of the PD&E phases of JP2097 Ph 1B. These two phases of Stage 1 of this acquisition program should be complete by the end of 2013.
At the completion of the PD&E phase, the DMO is expected to acquire a fleet of vehicles under a separate contract, although the date for that acquisition is still uncertain.
Supacat has also been awarded an initial contract to deliver the newly developed variant of its Special Forces HMT Extenda vehicle to DMO by 15th December 2012. This will be a Prototype vehicle but the DMO expects “it to closely align to the tendered offer, and will not require significant additional development following completion of the PD&E stage.”
This prototype vehicle forms part of DMO’s selection process for the SOV-Cdo capabilities. The DMO said of the prototype “It is also an opportunity to perform design and development of sub-system integration, including communication and weapons systems.”
Developed for use by the Special Forces, the HMT Extenda can be converted into either a 4×4 or 6×6 configuration and can be equipped with optional mine blast and ballistic protection kits. This is a mandatory requirement as DMO state “SOV-Cdo is to include crew ballistic and mine blast protection, as well as an integrated logistic support (ILS) package which will cover operating, engineering, maintenance, supply and training support.”
The vehicle can be supplied with various mission hampers, weapons and communications, as well as Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) and force protection equipment to suit different operational roles.
The option of fitting a Remote Weapons Station (RWS) will be thoroughly investigated by DMO.
If chosen at Second Pass Approval, Supacat will deliver production vehicles and ongoing through-life support of the fleet through the Supacat Team Australia office, which has 18 Australian industry partners. These local industry partners are Aerostaff Australia, Alison Transmission, Andrew Engineering, Baker and Proven, Broens Industries, Cablex Australia, Cummins Power Generation, Eggler Consulting Engineers, Hallmark Logistics & Engineering, Hofmann Engineering, Marand Precision Engineering, PS Management Consultants, QinetiQ, Tectonica Australia, Unique Solution Partners (now owned by Supacat), W&E Platt, and VEEM Engineering Group. Kongsberg Protech will join this team if the RWS gets included.
THE FUTURE OF THIS PROJECT
Special Forces are highly skilled in undetected field observation and intelligence gathering in challenging environments, then applying lethal force as permitted by their Rules of Engagement to achieve specified ends.
Renewing special operations vehicles is a first step to maintaining appropriate mobility, crew protection and direct fire weapons to allow them to achieve their set objectives. At the conclusion of the PD&E contract, vehicles are likely to be procured in tranches with funding spread over more than one financial year.
Providing flexible, secure communications using lightweight devices with embedded smart applications will provide a comprehensive and instantly clear graphic interface to troops in the field. While the evaluation of this capability is likely to take some time, especially since it is as yet unfunded, funds should be made available as soon as a positive recommendation can be made.
SAS and Commando troops have a proud history of serving Australia with distinction during war activities, peace enforcing and peace-keeping in many different areas of operation. Much is asked of them, little is left unanswered. They deserve to be supported by the most effective capabilities a rich country like Australia can afford to provide.