• An Australian warship firing a live Harpoon Missile firing off the coast of Hawaii during Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2020.
    An Australian warship firing a live Harpoon Missile firing off the coast of Hawaii during Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2020. Defence

As ADM’s online editor Ewen Levick reported in our previous issue, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds last week announced a one-billion-dollar investment in ‘advanced maritime guided weapons.’

As Ewen also noted in his story, the minister’s release did not go into great detail about exactly what the proposed investment would entail and - as has become the norm for ministerial releases, which have to conform with the ‘jobs and growth’ mantra – the document triggered rather more questions than it in fact answered.

Minister Reynolds’ statement said the project “will provide Navy with leading-edge long-range anti-ship missiles, extended range surface-to-air missile, advanced lightweight torpedoes and maritime land strike capabilities.”

Although the Evolved Sea Sparrow, SM-2 and SM-6 missiles with ranges ‘in excess of 370 km’ were named in the release, no details were given regarding the land strike missile which, it said, would have a range ‘in excess of 1,500 km’.

“These new weapons will enhance the protection of our maritime resources and borders, and hold adversaries at risk at much greater distances,” the release added.

The investment is actually part of Project Sea 1300 Phase 1 (Navy Guided Weapons), a ‘program of program’ of weapons, which gathers several previous projects together under its umbrella and is part of the government’s $24 billion investment in maritime weapons over the next two decades forecast by the recent Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan.

In order to learn more about which weapons and/or capabilities are covered under last weeks’ announcement, ADM recently contacted Defence for further details.

The ESSM Block II short-range air defence weapon is under development by the NATO Sea Sparrow Consortium and adds an advanced dual mode seeker, which a Defence spokesperson said will “maintain Navy’s short-range integrated air and missile defence capability edge.”

Production of this latest variant began in 2019 and will initially be employed in Navy’s eight Anzac-class frigates from the early 2020s. The new weapon will replenish the inventory holdings of the ESSM Block 1 variant currently in service.

The announcement also foreshadows Australia’s investment in the development of the SM-2 Block IIIC weapon to replace the Block IIIB missiles now in service in the RAN and also the SM-6 Block 1, which is a longer-range air defence weapon that can also be used as an anti-ship weapon and, in the future, provide a ballistic missile defence (BMD) capability.

This latter capability requires upgrade of the Aegis combat system used by the Navy’s Hobart class air warfare destroyers (and, in the future, Hunter class frigates) to Baseline 9.0 configuration and Australia is likely to become one of the first export customers for the SM-6 missile.

“The Standard Missile family of weapons integrates seamlessly into the Aegis combat system, which is the backbone of Navy’s integrated air and missile defence capability. Australia’s planned participation in future Standard Missile development ensures the Aegis-fitted surface combatants such as the Hobart-class destroyer and Hunter-class frigates are fielding the most advanced systems in the world,” the spokesperson explained.

“Future government decisions regarding investment in Navy’s Standard Missile inventory will be deliberately staged to leverage upgrades to the Aegis combat system and associated Australian interface delivered by a skilled Australian workforce through the national shipbuilding enterprise from the mid-2020s.”

Australia has been invited by the US Navy to enter into an Armaments Co-operative Program (ACP) for the development of the Mk.54 Mod 2 lightweight torpedo, similar to the agreement between the two parties currently existing for the Mk.48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) heavyweight torpedo.

In its Mk.54 Block 0 form, the lightweight torpedo is currently employed by the Navy’s MH-60R Seahawk combat helicopter and the RAAF’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. While Defence is reluctant to provide details of the Mk.54 Block 2’s capabilities, US Navy sources have stated that the weapon will have a new warhead and propulsion system and is expected to enter service around 2026.

ADM also understands that the MU-90 torpedo currently used by Navy’s surface combatants does not have a follow-on development path, in ADF terms at least, and Mk.54 Block 2 weapon development is being watched closely in this context as well.

Finally, what of the 1,500 km land strike missile mentioned in Minister Reynold’s announcement?

“Defence is considering a number of options to meet its maritime land strike capability needs. A portion of the planned $1 billion investment will facilitate studies into potential weapon systems and the complex work required to integrate them into surface combatants and submarines,” the Defence spokesperson said.

“Procurement plans, including timeframes, weapon selections, and inventory quantities, will be the subject of ongoing consultation with industry and (further) Government decisions.”

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