HMAS Parramatta’s anti-submarine capabilities were put to the test recently as part of Exercise OCEAN EXPLORER, being held off the Western Australian coast.
The first major Australian naval exercise of 2017 involved the ship’s MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ helicopter in a tense game of cat and mouse with a submarine.
Parramatta’s Flight Commander Lieutenant Commander Mark Flowerdew said having a MH-60R embarked was to detect and counter a range of potential threats.
“Having this aircraft onboard significantly increases the ship’s ability to project force in both the surface and subsurface environments,” he said.
“During this particular exercise, the task element, which comprised ourselves, a Spanish destroyer and a New Zealand frigate, managed to detect and prosecute the submarine, which in turn neutralised the threat.
“This was an outstanding example of naval interoperability between the elements that comprise this multinational task force," he said.
Lieutenant Commander Flowerdew said the highly trained aircrew used a number of tactics to hunt down the ‘enemy’ submarine.
“The aircraft is equipped with active low frequency sonar and sonar buoys for subsurface detection of submarine contacts, as well as search radar which is utilised in the long-range detection of surface contacts,” he said.
“With this high tech equipment it wasn’t long before we were able to locate the submarine.”
As well as being an effective weapon against submarines, the aircraft also provides the command team with increased situational awareness and war-fighting ability.
“The information gathered from the aircraft is provided to the ships in the task element, which then input it into their combat systems.
“The ships’ Principal Warfare Officers then use this information to tactically counter and eliminate the subsurface threat.
“This was a very effective exercise with excellent interaction between all participating units.”
The Royal Australian Navy took ownership of the last of 24 MH-60R helicopters in September 2016, making the aircraft one of the newest – and most potent – pieces in the fleet’s arsenal.
The helicopter is equipped with a highly sophisticated combat system designed to employ Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and the Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedo.
In the near future, the Navy will have the capacity to provide at least eight warships with a combat helicopter at the same time, including Anzac class frigates and the incoming Hobart class destroyers, the first of which being NUSHIP Hobart, scheduled to be commissioned later this year.
Exercise OCEAN EXPLORER includes more than 17 ships, submarines and aircraft from five participating navies, as well as Royal Australian Air Force supporting elements.
It is one of the final stages of training in Navy’s shift to maintaining adaptive and responsive maritime task groups.
The inaugural exercise marks a significant shift from predominantly single ship operations to a complex and dynamic war fighting capability based around the fleet’s larger amphibious ships.