• SADM uses feeds from ESSM, Nulka, radars and a number of ship systems to produce a coherent ship defence picture. (Defence)
    SADM uses feeds from ESSM, Nulka, radars and a number of ship systems to produce a coherent ship defence picture. (Defence)

In many respects BAE Systems Australia is known for its platform business. But the company also has form when it comes to products. One of the lesser known products that has achieved global export success (in use with 13 navies around the world) is the ship air defence model (SADM).

Beginning life in the early 1990s when simulation tools were still in their relative infancy, SADM was originally designed to showcase how to protect ships from missile attack.

The SADM simulates own-ship and task group protection using guns, missiles, active decoys, chaff and jammers, and includes detailed models of shipboard sensors and their interactions with ship combat systems.

It also includes weather effects to model signal propagation and signature attenuation in rain and other conditions.
SADM today is a versatile operational analysis tool that simulates both task group and single ship operations against multiple aircraft and missile threats.

“The concept was so revolutionary when we began that it was hard to explain without some kind of visualisation,” BAE Systems Chief Technology Officer Brad Yelland and one of the SADM ‘fathers’ explained to ADM.

“Using flight simulation information to build a set of 3D CAD drawings that could be combined and rendered to build the animation, the initial product was essentially a marketing tool.

“But we soon realised what it was we had in our hands – we could expand the capability to reflect different payloads, how different missiles would interact with the ships’ systems.”

“And, not long after we realised that what we were developing was an exemplar simulation of an air defence scenario for maritime.

“Then we started to think about all the different applications and realised that if we could get really good high fidelity models of radar seeker heads, the RF environment, ship motion together with building in the capabilities of other ship sensors and weapons, then what we would have is a pretty sophisticated naval air defence model that could be used for a number of different purposes.

“So we recruited experts to build that capability into SADM, using much more capability computer-based simulation and visualisation applications to produce a tool for three main purposes.”

The tool is still used to inform developers as continued development and improvements to the capability are made.
Customers use it to develop requirements for air defence systems and combat systems. Finally, SADM is also a training tool.

The company is also working on a development plan that would see a fourth application in real time operational aid where in the ops room the sailors can actually use it, running faster than real time to work out the best approach to any given scenario therein.

A SADM users group consisting of all 13 navies that operate the system was initiated by the Canadian Navy because it wanted a forum that could be used to communicate easily with other users of the model to talk about modifications, upgrades and additional capability they wanted, how to do certain things with the model. This forum still meets on a regular basis and it cost-shares modifications to the model. There are open modifications that are shared among the community.

“One country might pay for it but is happy to share it amongst all the other nations using it,” Yelland said. “There are other enhancements that we do that are sensitive to one nation’s particular needs that remain exclusive to that country’s eyes only. It’s used extensively in defence establishments such as the Naval Research Labs in the US, the Maritime Warfare Centre in Canada, DST Group in Australia and UK MoD. Many NATO nations use it too.”

This article first appeared in the November 2020 edition of ADM. A PDF version is available here.

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