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Australia Cleared For $207 Million Modular SURTASS Buy

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has several support vessels that could host the system, including new Undersea Support Vessel ADV Guidance.

Australia received in principle approval to procure an expeditionary version of the US Navy’s Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) on May 5th. The total value of the deal is approximately $207 million. SURTASS-Expeditionary (SURTASS-E) is designed to operate from commercial vessels, such as Offshore Support Vessels (OSV), with little-to-no modification. Australia currently operates four such vessels as well as a multitude of purpose built military ships that would be capable of mounting the system.  

SURTASS-E is a fully containerized version of the AN/UQQ-2 SURTASS that equips ocean surveillance vessels of the United States Navy and Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF). SURTASS was developed during the Cold War as a mobile sensor able to feed into the U.S Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS).

170116-N-ED185-022 TOKYO BAY, Japan (Jan. 16, 2016) The ocean surveillance ship USNS Able (T-AGOS 20) prepares to moor onboard Fleet Activities Yokosuka. Able is visiting Yokosuka for a port visit to promote stability and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, demonstrate commitment to regional partners, and foster relationships. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian G. Reynolds/Released)

It includes both a passive towed array and an low frequency active sonar. In 2017 the U.S Department of Defense (DoD) approved the development of a full containerized system that could be mounted and dismounted from different vessels as required. This became SURTASS-E though it is unclear if it retains the low frequency active sonar found on its fully integrated counterpart. 

SURTASS-E. (U.S Department of Defense)

According to a 2022 Request for Information (RFI) in its current form the system is made up of seven ISO standard containers cumulatively requiring 418m² of free deck space on one level. Control of the array itself is provided by a winch and handling system. The overall footprint can be expanded with the addition of a further three ISO containers, though what added capabilities these provide to operators is not publicly known.

SURTASS-E is currently deployed by the USN aboard leased OSV HOS Red Rock, based out of Norfolk, Virginia. Red Rock complements five purpose built SURTASS ships in service with the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) as well as three in operation with the JMSDF. Australia plans to operate SURTASS-E from unspecified “vessels of opportunity.”

Australian Defence Vessel Reliant shows off it’s impressive cargo deck during Exercise Croix Du Sud 2023.(Commonwealth of Australia)

Based on the known requirement for 418m² of deck space all of Australia’s OSVs (ADV ReliantADV Guidance and ADV Ocean Protector) should be able to deploy the system. It does not appear that either the Leeuwin-class hydrographic ships or Paluma-class launches will be able to accommodate SURTASS-E. The possibility of it equipping the Arafura-class is unclear.

Across the board Australia is working to enhance its undersea surveillance and domain awareness capabilities. The most prominent effort in this area is Project SEA 5012 Phase 1 which aims to develop a joint, integrated, and sovereign undersea awareness capability. It’s not clear if the acquisition of SURTASS-E comes under the 5012 umbrella. Separately, Thales Australia is working with Australian company Ocius to develop an underwater ISR focused variant of the successful Bluebottle Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV). Similar efforts are also underway involving Uncrewed Underwater Vehicles (UUV).

For more information on Australia’s evolving undersea capabilities check out these videos from last year:

1- Indo Pacific 2022 – Day 1: AUKUS, Submarines and ASW

00:40 AUKUS submarines
03:42 Collins-class LOTE
05:21 Royal Australian Navy’s Speartooth L-UUV
07:50 Ocius & Thales agreement for ASW USV

2- Indo Pacific 2022 – Day 3: Weapon systems, Mine Warfare and Seabed Warfare

00:57 – Rheinmetall’s Millennium CIWS
01:47 – Rheinmetall’s MASS decoy launching system
02:40 – Rheinmetall’s Murena and Asteria naval mines
03:07 – Lockheed Martin LRASM anti-ship missile for AIR 3023 and SEA 1300 maritime strike programs
07:30 – ECA Group’s proposal for SEA 1905 MCM program

11:02 – L3Harris undersea surveillance network for SEA 5012 Integrated Undersea Surveillance System

Source: navalnews