Civilian Australian boats will ‘hunt’ enemy subs using US sonars

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An estimated $206 million will cost the Royal Australian Navy [RAN]’s new sensor system to detect enemy submarines. SURTASS-E will be sold by the US, and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency [DSCA] has already notified Congress of the potential sale.

Photo credit: Argo Program

SURTASS-E is a system of hydrophones in an array towed from a vessel. Hydrophones convert the mechanical energy of submerged vessels into an electrical signal. I.e. thus converting the echo that returns from the submerged vessel. Thus, according to the returned echo, converted into a signal, experts on board the vessel can determine the type and category of the submarine. The vessel must be moving at 3.2 knots for SURTASS-E to work properly.

RAN will receive from the USA the complete equipment, integration, and subsequent service of the SURTASS-E mission systems. However, the DSCA does not mention what quantity Australia is buying.

The executor of the order will be Lockheed Martin. The US and Australia have a long history of trade and military cooperation. In truth, Australia is an important and strategic gatekeeper for the Americans in the Western Pacific.

Photo credit: NEPA Projects


In this regard, such a sale helps the US monitor what is happening underwater in the region, especially identifying China as the main threat to peace. Acoustic wide-range surveillance through this sale will not only improve maritime security but also help Australia meet potential threats coming from under the water, as well as develop Australia’s self-defense capabilities.

The US says the SURTASS-E systems will be dedicated to Australia’s Vessels of Opportunity [VOO]. These are civilian or commercial ships and boats that during a crisis respond to the disaster [oil spill for example]. I.e. SURTASS-E can be integrated into civilian ships and boats that, sailing in ocean waters, detect enemy submarines.

In Australia, the program that engages civilian and commercial ships in similar activities is called Ships of Opportunity [SOOP]. Currently, ships participating in SOOP collect data related to physical, chemical, and biological oceanography and ecology. With the acquisition of SURTASS-E, these ships will be able to collect data on any underwater objects, including especially submarines.

Intelligence tools

In effect, SURTASS-E turns civilian Australian ships into powerful intelligence tools disguised as their normal commercial/civilian activity. Because these sonars will allow the collection of data not only about submarines around Australia. What’s more – with similar equipment, Australian civilian boats will annually transmit data along certain routes and transects between ports or regions. In this way, the amount and change in the amount of underwater objects can be monitored. This data will be used for analysis and evaluation by RAN.


This is not the first such program. Years ago, Australia initiated the Craft of Opportunity Program [COOP]. This program was under the direct command of the RAN and converted commercial and civilian ships into minesweepers. However, the program was discontinued at the beginning of the last decade.

The use of civilian or commercial ships for military purposes is not new. This idea dates back to the time of the Second World War and the famous evacuation carried out by the British at Dunderck. Then civilian small boats and ships accepted the call of the British government to help evacuate the soldiers from the bombed Dunderck.

China also uses civilian boats

Today, some navies have greatly developed and updated “this historic approach”. For example, such ships are used for landing military activities. China, for example, is such a case. Last year, the navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army carried out similar exercises. Civilian ferries were loaded with tanks and self-propelled artillery and freely sailed between Taiwan and China. The news was quickly shared by Chinese national television [CCTV] video footage and just as quickly the video footage was taken down from the web.


Despite the rapid download of the video footage, some experts were able to take screenshots and notice significant improvements. For example, – military landing craft can open their cargo ramps in the water. The leaked footage shows that China has designed civilian cargo and civilian ferries to do the same, with additional support beams and hydraulic systems. Their role is to remove the tension and force coming from the lateral forces of tidal waves.

Sources even claimed that during a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early August, military experts observed more of the waters around Taiwan than the number of planes that China has taken to the air. The same exercise [ferries loaded with tanks and artillery] was allegedly carried out by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army during Pelosi’s visit.


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