Simulation and Training: Looking for an echo - RAN sonar operator training | ADM August 2014
Arguably one of the most skilled professions in the Australian Defence Force is that of the RAN’s Acoustic Warfare Analyst Submariner (AWASM) category.
The sonar operators on the Navy’s Collins class submarines are members of the AWASM fraternity and undergo intensive training to become proficient in their art.
Like all submarines, the Collins boats rely on detecting noise from a contact before tracking, classifying and, if necessary, engaging it with kinetic weapons. Detection techniques include the use of broad and narrow band sonar and the AWASM is trained to detect, track and classify a wide range of noise sources in the ocean.
Acoustic Warfare Analyst training begins with an 11-week Basic Acoustic Warfare Analyst course (AWA1) at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia, covering passive and active sonar design and construction, basic operation of all fitted sonars and grounding in sonar theory.
Following successful completion of the AWA1 course, candidates progress to real submarine to consolidate their submarine and AWA training.
“During this time they are exposed to ‘real time’ scenarios which further develop their skills as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the submarine to keep the submarine safe and achieve the tactical aim,” explained a Defence spokesperson.
“When not at sea an AWA sailor is required to conduct monthly acoustic classroom training, to expand on their acoustic skill set. This training consists of audio files played through an acoustic analyser. The trainee’s task is to determine the source of the acoustic transmissions such as warship, submarine, merchant vessel or biological.”
After serving a year aboard one of Navy’s six Collins submarines and two years as an Able Seaman, an AWA progresses to a Supervisor’s Course, known as AWA2, and promotion to Leading Seaman. AWA2 is a 10-week course of instruction in oceanography, brief presentation, aural and narrowband analysis and a two-week practical component in the Combat System Trainer (CST) to simulate the duties as an AWA supervisor.
After a further year of consolidation as an AWA2 at sea on board a Collins boat and with four years as a Leading Seaman the next step is a Manager’s Course (AWA3), with six weeks of advanced instruction and a two-week practical training period in the CST.
“In addition to training the operator specialists, Submarine Warfare Officers conduct acoustic familiarisation training as a component of their initial submarine and warfare specialist courses. The later course includes a two-week specialist package conducted with the USN Submarine Force in Pearl Harbor. This course advances officers’ skills in the highly challenging role of detecting and tracking other submarines,” said the spokesperson.
“The majority of AWA training occurs at the Submarine Training and Systems Centre (STSC) located at HMAS Stirling. Other more specific training also occurs at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, NSW. Some sailors are given the opportunity to conduct training with the Royal Navy and the United States Navy. Officers conduct advanced training on the tracking and detection of submarines in Pearl Harbor Hawaii.”
Two main acoustic simulators are used for training: a classroom-based sonar simulator and the CST.
The classroom-based simulator replicates the three main sonar displays fitted to a Collins submarine.
“Acoustic data is provided by a ‘Sonar Sim Controller’ (SSC) that feeds synthetic sound designed to replicate shipping into the simulator on a rudimentary level,” detailed the spokesperson.
“For basic AWA training this simulator is a valuable tool to accustom a trainee to acoustic/visual integration. This level of simulation is used to supplement more advanced aural recognition training, conducted using pre-recorded acoustic data.”
The CST replicates the control room of Collins submarine, including a fully functional periscope, sonar, combat system and navigation displays. The sonar displays have the same capabilities as the classroom based sonar simulator with the acoustic data being provided by a SSC. This trainer is used in many areas of advanced training including Submarine Command Team certification.
A third option is the participation in specialist courses overseas, such as those conducted with the USN, which make considerable use of US simulator technology.
To simulate an enemy submarine when a real boat is not available, Navy uses an acoustic target simulator which it says has been used for many years and provides training in submarine detection and tracking techniques.
The current systems are the Lockheed Martin/Sippican Expendable Mobile ASW Training Target (EMATT) - which can be deployed from a surface warship, aircraft or helicopter, - and the submarine-launched SUBMATT version.
Future use of simulation
For the future, Navy says it is in the process of developing advanced solutions to improve acoustic simulation for both AWA and Officer training that will include greater integration of sonar into the principle Command Team trainers.
With regard to acoustic targets it says that advanced targets currently being developed which can reliably simulate challenging ‘high end’ submarines are highly desirable.
“Such targets will be able to greatly enhance unit and force level ASW training across the full range of ADF ASW platforms. They will also greatly enhance the ability to conduct ASW Torpedo firings from submarines, ships and aircraft in highly complex and challenging scenarios such as shallow water,” said a Defence spokesperson.
One such option is Saab’s AUV62-AT Artificial Submarine Acoustic Target system, which is intended for ASW operator training, as well as for on board sonar, helicopter sonar and command system check-up.
The AUV62-AT transmits broadband noise similar to the passive signatures of a conventional submarine and also echoes back received active sonar pings which are received with a realistic target strength and echo elongation. It can also be used for training other ASW assets, such as the Boeing P-8A Poseidon and Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawk platforms.