With Electronic Warfare (EW) now playing a crucial role in both surface and sub-surface operations, providing a steady flow of specialised EW operators is a major focus of the RAN’s training process.
EW training was streamlined last year when initial training of submarine service EW operators at HMAS Stirling near Fremantle was consolidated with that of surface fleet EW trainees at the Maritime Warfare School located at HMAS Watson in Sydney.
After certification as an EW operator, submariners then undertake a platform-specific course at HMAS Stirling while surface EW sailors further their training at HMAS Watson.
All Navy recruits undergo psychological testing to ascertain their employment suitability. A recruit is offered a contract within a category for which they are suited. EW prospects are identified from their psychological profiles as suitable for what Captain Craig Powell RAN, Commanding Officer of HMAS Watson and Director Training Authority Maritime Warfare, describes as “this complex and difficult domain”.
“These are very clever sailors, recruited from the top psych category. They are the cream of the cream,” he added.
The 17-week introductory EW training course involves up to 10 sailors and begins almost immediately after attendees complete their 11 weeks of recruit training at HMAS Cerberus south of Melbourne. EW trainees require a higher security clearance than some other categories, and this occasionally means a student is delayed and has to attend a subsequent course.
“They will still come to Watson and we will take ownership of those individuals and we’ll manage and employ them in order to maintain their interest while we finalise security clearances,” CAPT Powell explained to ADM.
The curriculum includes mathematics, radar theory, signal analysis and reporting, recognition training, and briefing techniques, all of which is predominantly classroom work.
“During the 17 weeks they do more than 20 exams and it is material that is usually new to them, but the pass rate is top-notch. I rarely see someone fail a course and if they do they’ll probably get a second chance at it, it depends on the circumstances,” according to CAPT Powell. “The average score achieved on this course in terms of their overall exam assessment is usually in the mid to high 90 per cent. The dux of the course usually gets 98 or 99 per cent”.
Surface EW sailors then attend a seven-week EW Support course designed to provide them with the ability to perform EW tasks at sea and integrate them into an operations room.
The course includes an equipment application element familiarising students with the consoles of the ES-3701 radar-electronic surveillance. This equipment is common to the Hobart-class DDGs, Anzac frigates, and the two Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs). The course also includes soft kill applications.
Because roles change on a ship, each change in rank involves a targeted course.
“When you accept a promotion it generally means you will change posting. At the basic level, the EW job structure on a ship has a sailor in front of an EW console,” CAPT Powell said. “The Leading Seaman will be employed as a supervisor of several Able Seamen on watch to ensure they’re not sitting at a console continuously; a Petty Officer (PO) is a planner/manager of both watches in an Operations Room, and a Chief Petty Officer (CPO) will be employed doing Task Group EW planning on a Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD).”
Surface sailors return to the Maritime Warfare School for a 13-week intermediate course when they’re transitioning to Leading Seaman rank. This work is split between eight weeks of classroom work and five weeks of training and assessment within the co-located Navy Synthetic Warfare Training Centre.
The course is designed as a formal face-to-face training period for the roles and responsibilities associated with being an EW Director focussing on anti-ship missile defence.
Leading Seamen moving up to PO rank undertake a seven-week Advanced EW course. This provides the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to undertake further ship-type and functional training to perform the duties of an EW manager ashore and on RAN units.
Finally, a seven-week Maritime EW Managers Course exposes personnel moving from PO to CPO rank to classroom instruction, together with interactive and collective planning with members of a Principal Warfare Officer (PWO) course, culminating in three weeks of scenario-based synthetic warfare training.
This will ready them for the preparation of Force Level EW within the maritime environment.
The submarine service runs its own eight-week electronic support course at HMAS Stirling, designed around simulating the electronic support equipment of the Collins-class fleet and furthering the operators’ critical thinking skills in order to provide accurate and timely advice to command.
A submariner manager’s course that is still under development will lay out the expectations of separately managing an EW department. This will focus on interaction with the intelligence community and EW requirements in preparation for a deployment.
Also under development is a Full Spectrum course expanding on an experienced operator’s current knowledge of an operational EW setting. This will cover a wider variety of above-water sensors, how they are intercepted, classified and reported on and what impact they have on the operational environment.
Students will be taught more advanced analysis techniques to allow a more accurate assessment of a target, allowing Command to make more informed tactical decisions.
Fleet Air Arm
EW training for the Fleet Air Arm and its MH-60R naval combat helicopter fitted with the ALQ-210 electronic support measures system, takes place at HMAS Albatross near Nowra.
“There is not a dedicated EW operator in this role and the fitted ESM system is largely automated. It’s about fighting the helicopter and using all of the fitted systems and the role is fulfilled by an Aviation Warfare Officer,” CAPT Powell noted.
The EW instruction section at the Maritime Warfare School is headed by a Chief Petty Officer (CPO) supported by a number of EW specialists at the CPO and Leading Seaman level, including two submariners, who provide hands-on instruction. Such EW instructors are grown within Navy, says CAPT Powell.
“There’s a career structure which says that a seaman who is on course now, in 20 years’ time will be a CPO on an LHD, having done all of these jobs along the way.”
Units at sea conduct continuous training of EW sailors in accordance with a ship’s training plan that takes equipment upgrades into account. The RAN’s Sea Training Group assesses outcomes during workup periods and exercises. Other training takes place while a ship is in maintenance.
Whenever possible, the theory that is taught and assessed at all levels is blended with hands-on instruction through the use of simulation and synthetic training.
“We have a graduated training process and simulator capability that allows us to work one-on-one with a student on an emulator or simulator and ultimately graduates, on the more advanced courses, to EW students exercising at the Maritime Warfare School with an entire operations room crew,” CAPT Powell said.
Meanwhile synthetic and tactical EW training is to be consolidated within a single training suite under a $4.2 million contract awarded to Sydney-based Cirrus Realtime Processing Systems. Delivery to HMAS Watson is scheduled for the first quarter of 2019.
Instructing officers in the basics of EW is one aspect of the two-year Junior Warfare Application course attended by future bridge watchkeepers as soon as they complete naval college.
“When you are the bridge watch keeper on a frigate you are an integral part of the warfare team in terms of weapons, radars, responses, so there is an EW element at that basic level of warfare training,” CAPT Powell said to ADM.
After between two to six years at sea, officers return to the Maritime Warfare School for a year-long PWO course. This course offers five specialisations – Surface Warfare, Mine Warfare, Navigation, Communications and Information Warfare, and Air Warfare.
The first seven months of common instruction cover broad warfare theory across all domains, including aspects of EW – “you might be the PWO on watch in the ops room handling an initial response regardless of your specialisation”, comments CAPT Powell.
A further three months are devoted to specialist training, with more detailed instruction on EW, the EW domain, ship capabilities and planning for management of the electro-magnetic spectrum undertaken by the Communications and Information Warfare attendees. The last six weeks of the course is taken up with task group planning operations, in which EW takes a low profile but plays a vital role.
This article first appeared in the May 2018 edition of ADM.