The Watch interviewed CMDR Sean Leydon (retired), Regional Manager at Forcys Australia, on the subject of the latest ADF Defence Strategy Review (DSR). The DSR sets out the Australian Government’s strategic direction for defence over the next decade.
Leydon clearly understands the significance of the DSR: “It is clear that the Government is committed to investing in new and innovative technologies, and that the maritime domain will be a key focus of this investment. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the Indo-Pacific maritime domain is becoming increasingly contested, and there is a growing risk of conflict. Second, the maritime domain is critical to Australia’s economic security. Australia is a major exporter of resources, and the maritime domain is essential for the safe and efficient movement of these resources.”
The DSR identifies a number of key areas where Australia needs to invest in order to strengthen its maritime capabilities. These include:
- Uncrewed systems: These have the potential to revolutionize maritime warfare. They can be used for a variety of tasks, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike. Australia is investing in the development and procurement of uncrewed systems in order to stay ahead of its adversaries.
- Artificial intelligence: Another key technology that will have a major impact on maritime warfare. AI can be used to improve the performance of uncrewed systems, as well as to develop new capabilities such as autonomous decision-making.
According to Leydon: “The investments that are made in the coming years will have a major impact on Australia’s ability to protect its interests in the maritime domain.”
AUKUS and Pillar 2
AUKUS is a new trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It was announced in September 2021, and its primary goal is to strengthen the three countries’ ability to operate in the Indo-Pacific region. Pillar 2 of AUKUS is focused on key capabilities including undersea warfare. It will involve the three countries working together to develop new and innovative technologies, such as autonomous underwater vehicles. These technologies will be used to improve the three countries’ ability to detect, track, and defeat submarines.
Leydon understands that the importance of undersea warfare cannot be overstated. According to him: ”Submarines are a major threat to surface ships and aircraft. They are also a key asset for countries that are seeking to project power in the maritime domain. The development of new and innovative technologies is essential for maintaining a strong undersea warfare capability and integral to the DSR. AUKUS Pillar 2 will help the three countries to do just that. Under AUKUS Pillar 2 the Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems (AURAS) project, will pave the way for underwater networks consisting of crewed and uncrewed vessels, or also a networked underwater range enabling the navy to share information and coordinate actions between their vessels. This would allow the Navy to operate more effectively and efficiently and would give it a significant advantage over adversaries.
Leydon continues: ”As you know, uncrewed systems are playing an increasingly important role in maritime warfare. They can be used for a variety of tasks, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike. As the maritime domain becomes increasingly contested, uncrewed systems will become even more important. Why is that? Consider this:
- They are less expensive to operate.
- They are less vulnerable to attack.
- They can operate in more dangerous environments.
However, uncrewed systems are not a replacement for crewed systems, they play a complementary role. By working together, crewed and uncrewed systems can provide a more comprehensive and effective maritime warfare capability.”
While the uncrewed systems are attracting a lot of attention, the payloads cannot be underestimated. Leydon explains: “The sensors and effectors provide the capability, the platform delivers it. It’s as simple as that.”
“Obviously, it’s important that the design of the platform meets the overall purpose of the capability, that it’s fit for its purpose, such as a frigate for a medium sized, smaller armed, fast platform compared with a larger destroyer designed for a greater armament.
The same goes for an AUV – it’s important that the payload is not only high quality (such as a multi-Aperture sonar, high quality camera or laser), but its navigation, communications and tracking systems are also high quality and precise allowing it to go where it’s supposed to and find its way back. Ideally, you want both the sensors and platforms to be built using modular designs – this allows for smoother integration of the sensors and makes future upgrades more feasible.
In other cases, a designed platform isn’t even needed. For example, the dropping or strategic placement of underwater sensors will provide you with an acoustic range that can detect an adversary’s AUV, submarine or underwater vehicle.”
Sean recently joined Forcys and is spearheading our Australian efforts, “I think Australia and its UK and US partners have a lot to gain from AUKUS and the technological transfer of capabilities that already exist. The DSR specifically speaks about the Pillar 2 ‘Trilateral delivery’ or joint R&D of enhanced capabilities, this collaboration with companies like Forcys will help provide the ability for all three nations to move forward with information sharing and technology cooperation. I’m especially excited about the opportunities for Forcys with AUKUS Pillar 2 undersea warfare – from the underwater acoustic communication network in Smart Sound Plymouth from our Technology Partners Sonardyne, the world leading intruder detection sonars from Wavefront already deployed with navies around the globe and to our AUV payloads. These are just some of the amazing proven capabilities that Forcys offer.”
Want to find out more or speak to Sean Leydon? Please get in touch.
The Watch recently discussed the Royal Navy’s littoral strike capability with Justin Hains MBE, a former Royal Navy officer and current Business Development Manager for Forcys. The Royal Navy has a significant capability to strike land targets thanks to its two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, which are together capable of carrying up to 80 aircraft, including F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters. The carriers are also supported by a range of other vessels, including destroyers, frigates, logistic support ships and submarines.
Hains believes that the Royal Navy has an advanced littoral strike capability. He said: “You need to understand that the capability is absolutely there. The core of power projection is the two carriers and then everything builds from them. There’s a submarine capability to defend the carrier, and there’s a hydrographic and mine countermeasures capability to enable the carrier freedom of navigation so that the carriers can get to where they need to operate. The escorts provide a defensive screen and an ability to distribute the force in smaller packages as required. This capability has been many years in the planning and recent geopolitical events, if anything, further validate the Royal Navy’s approach”.
In addition to the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, the Royal Navy is also investing in a range of other capabilities that will support littoral strike operations. These include:
- The Type 26 frigate, which will be equipped with a range of anti-ship and land-attack missiles.
- The Type 31 frigate, which will be a smaller, more affordable frigate that will be well-suited to littoral operations.
- The Littoral Response Group, which will provide an amphibious option, either in concert with Carrier Strike or separately.
Innovation where it is needed
Hains points out: “These strategic decisions ensure that the Royal Navy has a strong littoral strike capability for many years to come. However, the renewed threat of near-peer adversaries is more real than ever before. To meet this challenge, the Royal Navy is going to need to adapt its capabilities and strategies. The focus on littoral strike is a big step in the right direction. The navy now needs to invest in new technologies to complement its existing assets. Investment in uncrewed systems increases our surveillance range and improves our strike capability. Techniques like machine learning (ML) will be used to automate tasks and make decisions in real time.” But it’s not just technology. “In addition to investing in new technologies, the Royal Navy will also need to adapt its operational concepts. The navy will need to be able to operate more flexibly and at higher tempo. It will need to adapt to the foe and generate a response by selecting the right mix. At times the navy will operate in smaller, more distributed units. At times it will resort to conventional weaponry. At all times the Royal Navy will need to work closer with its allies and partners”.
According to Hains, if navies are going to defeat the emergent threats, then they need to be successful in fielding new technologies: “We need to deliver innovative solutions to put in front of the navy in a very rapid way. If you ask me, I think we’re getting there but to be honest the procurement process is still playing catch-up. Many initiatives are supporting rapid innovation and encouraging war fighters to be involved in their development from early stages. At Forcys, we are clutched into all of that, and we are part of the ongoing discussion. However, we recognise that defence as a whole will always have a problem with annualised budgets. These make it very difficult to launch multi-year projects. I know this is being worked on. And I accept that the commercial teams in front line commands can only change as fast as the next level allows them, but we need to feed back to defence to help them be as flexible in procuring innovation as they are when it comes to field it. You are going to see industry and defence working together and needing to be ready to take calculated risks.”
Dominance in the underwater domain will be critical to enable the littoral strike capability. As Hains explains: “It all comes down to the use of use of asymmetric force. You’re trying to get the most effect for the least resource you apply your strengths against your enemy’s weaknesses. In the underwater domain this arms race is taking place against a backdrop where the sensors and effectors are going to be required to operate at far higher speed and more integrated than ever before. It’s not going to be good enough to take a position, course and a speed from one sensor and plug those numbers into a weapon to then release it. All of this information has to be exchanged electronically and very quickly, because underwater vehicles, especially weapon systems, are going to get faster; so response times are going to have come down.”
The Importance of Underwater Networks
As Hains noted in the interview, an effective underwater network is essential for the Royal Navy to be able to conduct littoral strike operations. “An underwater network would allow the navy to share information and coordinate actions between its unmanned systems and manned ships. This would allow the navy to operate more effectively and efficiently and would give it a significant advantage over its adversaries.”
One year on
It’s been one year since Hains joined the Forcys project, he was here while the launch was being planned and participated on the launch in UDT 2022 in Rotterdam. How has it been? “I’m still absolutely thrilled to be part of something that feels really fresh, really exciting, and exactly what defence is looking for. It also feels good now that we’re getting more people in, and our expansion into the US and Australia is absolutely essential as we look towards AUKUS and other opportunities. I think there are so many synergies wrapped around AUKUS that we’re absolutely in the right place for it. I really feel like we’ve got the right model and the right recipe for success at just the right time. Especially when AUKUS rightly spins off underwater networks, defensive capabilities, and mine countermeasures capability to support anti-submarine warfare across shallow waters and confined spaces. I’m still amazed by the positive reaction I get from everyone when I explain why we created Forcys and what Forcys can offer. And I think if anything, we just need to go faster. That ability to really operate as that single point of contact will help us to accelerate again in terms of what we’re actually able to take on.”
Want to dominate the deep? Get in touch with our team.
(Featured Image of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Gibraltar by David Jenkins – InfoGibraltar under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)
Leading navies are focused on technological innovation, but it is time to outpace the rate of technological change. It is time to go further than partnerships. In this article Ioseba Tena, Commercial Director at Forcys, challenges navies to go further than ever before.
In the past, the introduction of new naval technologies has been driven and dictated by navies themselves according to changing mission requirements and their understanding of the technology available. But within the evolving threat landscape, navies are starting to embrace the incessant pace of technological change by sharing more with industry. This sharing is essential if you need to develop and leverage new technologies to address present and future threats.
Threats are swiftly evolving, unpredictable and varied. Traditionally, drones were largely confined to the aerial domain. Now, unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) threats are evolving rapidly. You must quickly develop and integrate the technologies and expertise to protect crews, vessels and critical infrastructure.
The common causes of protecting people from attack and the environment from disaster unite academics and navies. While there is some collaboration, the two communities often operate separately. Academia can be tasked to drive focused innovation, but these institutions are neither motivated nor incentivised to fund the production of fully formed security solutions. That means involving defence suppliers at the earliest possible stage in concept discussions. The best innovation will come from a well-grounded understanding of the size and scale of the challenges. Project risk, which invariably manifests itself as increased costs and time, could be reduced by inviting industry to embark in vessels to see the operational challenges first hand (a way perhaps to break the old cliché of waiting too long and then not getting what you actually needed!)
In the underwater domain, identifying, classifying and neutralising threats poses numerous challenges, largely because contacts underwater are notoriously difficult to evaluate. Intruder detection is difficult due to poor visibility, variable terrain, noise and the presence of other objects in the water such as marine life or debris. It’s no longer just large, manned, submarine platforms either; the threat could come from combat divers who are small and very quiet, or UUVs which are faster and therefore difficult to track.
It’s for this reason that naval forces cannot be islands. To gain a battle-winning advantage and neutralise threats, whether from the air or the sea, collaboration across industry, government enterprise and academia is a recognised necessity. Together we need to work towards a capability ecosystem that supports and promotes the swift and successful development of new technologies, enabling us to stay ahead of emerging threats and maintain operational advantage. This ecosystem goes beyond a narrowly-defined partnership. Industry, academia and navies must learn to communicate, innovate and learn from each other in order to ensure that forces on the front line have the necessary capabilities to carry out safe, successful operations.
Did you know that Forcys is the result of partnership between leading instrument vendors in the underwater domain? That’s why we understand that the ecosystem described above is key to the success of technology innovation. Our technology partners already have a strong legacy of working with industry, academia and government organisations. We continue to proactively look to forge relationships with academia to deliver the solutions to meet your needs, on time and on budget. Forcys and our technology partners can leverage university resources and insights to inform the next generation of technology, products and services for its customers.
For example, our technology partner Sonardyne is currently collaborating with Newcastle University on a new open standard in underwater communications. The standard, named Phorcys and funded by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, is a high-integrity secure waveform for underwater acoustic communications. Another good example is the collaboration between our technology partner Voyis and McGill University. They are producing a new generation of optical processing techniques for illuminating the underwater domain. Both projects have been primed with knowledge and experience from the commercial sector. The latest step is applying the technology to naval applications. At which point you will be able to find off-the-shelf technologies that meet naval capability requirements.
Government agencies and navies are increasingly recognising the importance of secure, open standards to begin using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components. As you know it’s critical to minimise project risk. How? By applying extensive knowledge and expertise in underwater communication and location technologies. Our technology partners have been at the heart of no-fail delivery for commercial customers for over 50 years. This means we have the expertise to deliver allied forces the interoperability needed to conduct successful operations at home and overseas.
At Forcys we are interested in talking to anyone who would like to be part of an ecosystem driving naval technology innovation. We want to create the best defence systems in the world. Invite us to see the problem and discuss your needs.
Please contact us to find out more.