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US approves sale of SURTASS to RAN

The US State Department and Defense Security Cooperation Agency have approved an Australian government request to acquire the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Expeditionary (SURTASS-E) mission system for Vessels of Opportunity (VOO), along with related equipment, for an estimated US$207 million ($306 million). If the purchase goes ahead it will be as a Foreign Military Sale (FMS).

Defence has asked to buy SURTASS-E mission systems; a shore processing mission system, a spare SURTASS passive acoustic array; containers; communications parts and support equipment (Classified and Unclassified); software (Classified and Unclassified); publications (Classified and Unclassified); training; U.S. Government and contractor engineering support; and other related elements of logistics and program support.

The SURTASS system is a towed array of hydrophones designed to detect low-frequency acoustic signals. It is deployed from surface surveillance ships and enables the operator to detect quiet, nuclear- and diesel-powered submarines and to report real-time surveillance information to Navy commanders.

It is a long Y-shaped acoustic array with two lines of hydrophones that is towed horizontally behind a surface surveillance ship. As well as hydrophones the SURTASS array includes environmental sensors and electronic components that collect underwater sound signals and information about the ocean environment. The SURTASS-E array is designed for VOOs.

This purchase should not affect Defence’s planned purchase of the Type 2087 active/passive towed array sonar which will equip the first three of a planned nine Hunter-class Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) frigates. Notwithstanding a ‘short and sharp’ review of the RAN’s surface combatant fleet, and its potential effect on the RAN’s order of battle, work is scheduled to begin on the first flight of three Hunter-class ships later this month.

The principal contractor for SURTASS-E will be Lockheed Martin, working from its Syracuse and Manassas sites. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.

The proposed sale will improve Australia’s capability to meet current and future maritime threats by providing tactical platforms with the detection and cueing of enemy submarines, says the DSCA. The ability to provide acoustic Wide Area Surveillance and generate Indications and Warnings to Australian Commands will significantly improve shared maritime security. Australia will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.

The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

Implementation of this proposed sale will require U.S. Government personnel and U.S. Contractor representatives to visit the Commonwealth of Australia on a temporary basis in conjunction with program technical oversight and support requirements, including program and technical reviews.

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