“While the delivery of the kinetic effect is important, what will decide the success of NASAMS in the ADF is the ability to properly integrate it into a RAAF Control and Reporting Centre”
In preparation for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) receiving the Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) as part of Land 19 Phase 7B (L19 7B), I recently visited the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) with an Australian delegation from 16th Air Land Regiment (16 ALR) and Capability and Sustainment Group. The purpose of the visit was to enhance the ADF’s knowledge of NASAMS and develop relationships between personnel of the ADF and the RNoAF. Two key events shaped my knowledge of NASAMS: firstly a visit over two days to the RNoAF Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) School and Battalion; and secondly an observation of their annual live fire event which saw the successful engagement of four Banshee unmanned aerial targets.
In this article I will give an overview of NASAMS and L19 7B. I will then look at how RNoAF employs NASAMS and compare this with how it may be employed in Australia, before looking at the possible ways forward for Australia’s GBAD community.
What is NASAMS?
NASAMS was introduced into service by RNoAF in the mid 1990s, as a replacement for the Norwegian HAWK system. It utilises a launcher system produced by Norwegian company Kongsberg, and primarily fires Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles (AMRAAM), produced by Raytheon. The AMRAAM is primarily used by fighter air-craft for air-air combat.
NASAMS is currently in service with the Armed Forces of several nations, including, but not limited to, Norway, Finland, The Netherlands, Spain, and the United States. In addition, Indonesia and Oman are currently in the process of acquiring the system.
What is L19 7B?
LAND 19 7B (L197B) is the project title for the procurement of an upgrade to Australia’s Air Defence capability. 16 ALR, as the stewards of Army’s Air Defence capability, is currently equipped with a very short range air defence capability through the RBS 70 (Robotsystem 70 – range 8km) as an effector, while its radar systems include the PSTAR-ER (Portable Surveillance and Target Acquisition Radar – Extended Range – range 40km), G-AMB (Giraffe Agile Multibeam radar – range 120 km) and LCMR/LSTAR (Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar/Lightweight Search and Track Acquisition Radar). Command and control (C2) is provided through various Air Land Integration Cells (ALICS) which work in Brigade (Bde) and Division (Div) Headquarters, and Air Operations Centres (AOC), as well as embedded Ground Liaison Officers with Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flying units.
L19 7B is a result of the Defence White Paper 2016, which stated the need to “develop an integrated Air and Missile Defence capability with a focus on integrated command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) to enhance the speed and accuracy of a response to air and missile threats”. Further direction from government has directed that L19 7B focus on protecting Australian manoeuvre elements, primarily the combat Bdes. Due to the limited timeframe, it has been decided that a system which is already fully operational would best suit Australia’s needs, hence the choice of NASAMS. To augment current NASAMS capabilities, the ADF, in concert with CEA Technologies, intends to develop an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
L19 7B has achieved First Pass through government with Second Pass expected in early 2019. Equipment has already started arriving at 16 ALR in preparation for receipt of NASAMS with Introduction of Capability (IOC) scheduled for 2023 and Final Operating Capability (FOC) circa 2025.
Differences in Task Unit Sizes between RNoAF and Australian GBAD
RNoAF GBAD has gone through considerable downsizing in the last two decades, with six GBAD Battalions (Bn) being reduced to just one. This GBAD Bn consists of GBAD Staff (HQ), the GBAD School, and two Batteries (Bty). These Btys become Task Units (TUs) once deployed and are commanded respectively by the Commanding Officer (CO) of the Bn and CO/CI (Chief Instructor) of the School (both O5s). The Battery Commander (BC) becomes one of the key staff officers of the TU.
This differs considerably from the envisaged Bty sizing for 16 ALR. It is expected that a 16 ALR NASAMS Bty will be made up of 3 Troops, with each Troop comprising 3-4 Launchers. Therefore, the complexity that an Australian sub-unit (TU) commander is going to encounter (deploying up to 12-14 Launchers into a field environment) is a significant challenge and something that many NASAMS countries are not currently practicing.
The Norwegian Tactical Solution Is Not Necessarily the Australian Solution
RNoAF GBAD tasks are biased towards static defence of key infrastructure. Examples of this include: defence of airfields, with a focus on F35 airfields into the future; defence of oil infrastructure; and, defence of key strategic events. Two notable recent examples of the latter, were the deployment of RNoAF TUs in the vicinity of Oslo to provide continuous Air Defence during Barack Obama’s visit to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and a deployment to Warsaw for the NATO Summit in 2016.
Conversely, the RNoAF’s support to manoeuvre is largely limited to one annual exercise in support of their Army.
The ADF’s intended employment of NASAMS will be the exact opposite to that of RNoAF, in that our core tasks will be support to manoeuvre while still maintaining an ability to conduct static defences.
A key reason for 16 ALR’s ability to effectively support manoeuvre with NASAMS is the expected acquisition of two different types of launchers. Australia will acquire Canister Launchers which take around 20 minutes to come into action. These are currently in service in Norway and have obvious limitations when supporting an advancing force. Therefore, to provide a NASAMS capability with commensurate mobility to the supported element, it is expected that L19 7B will also include eight High Mobility Launcher (HMLs) within a TU. These HMLs are likely to be mounted on the Hawkei and be capable of firing from the top of the vehicle.
It is worth highlighting that Norway is in the process of acquiring HMLs, however many of these are expected to be distributed amongst the Norwegian Army as they look to rebuild their organic GBAD capability. The remaining HMLs, which may go to RNoAF, are still expected to be utilised primarily in their static role as a strategic, rather than tactical, asset.
As the most experienced proponent of NASAMS, RNoAF has excellent knowledge on the technical capabilities of the system. As such, it is important that 16 ALR seeks to learn as much as possible from its Norwegian peers while it is developing its technical knowledge. However, 16 ALR must also remain cognisant that the Norwegian tactical option does not necessarily provide the best Australian GBAD solution for supporting manoeuvre of the Australian Joint Force.
Air Deconfliction Challenges Posed by NASAMS
With NASAMS being a beyond line of sight weapon system, 16 ALR will have to consider the type of C2 relationships that will be required with RAAF Control and Reporting Centres (CRC). These were not previously required due to RBS being a line of sight weapon.
RNoAF GBAD is integrated into their CRC in the north of the country, which reports to either their national Air Operations Centre (AOC) or a NATO AOC. Within the CRC, an Air Battle Manager (ABM) is appointed as the Surface to Air Missile (SAM) allocator. SAM allocators sit alongside fighter allocators and their key role is to allocate hostile air tracks directly to the NASAMS TU Fire Distribution Centre (FDC). At this point the Tactical Control Officer (TCO) and Tactical Control Assistant (TCA) take over the track and generate firing solutions. This involves determining which launcher/launchers are best positioned to achieve maximum percentage kill, and the number of missiles to be fired. The endstate is that the TCO has pressed the Fire button and the hostile aircraft or cruise missile has been successfully engaged by an AMRAAM.
This is fundamentally different to current practice in Australia, where there is no specified GBAD rep in the CRC and clearance is not required to be given by the CRC. Furthermore, in the era of NASAMS our detachment commanders (bombardiers) will not be giving the engagement order to a soldier on the piece of equipment. Instead it will likely be the troop commander in the position of TCO conducting the engagement.
In the RNoAF, the SAM allocator usually comes from an ABM background. They are then selected to do a two week course at the GBAD School to gain an appreciation of NASAMS and utilise the asset appropriately.
16 ALR is already taking steps to address this challenge. However, rather than upskilling an ABM with NASAMS/GBAD knowledge, we are upskilling GBAD non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and officers with ABM skills, so that in future they are able to effectively work in a CRC and perform a similar role to that of a RNoAF Sam allocator.
In January 2018, 16 ALR sent one junior non-commissioned officer (JNCO) to complete the Air Surveillance Operator course with the RAAF at the Surveillance and Controlling Training Unit (SACTU). Furthermore, in July 2018, 16 ALR sent its first junior officer to complete a suite of ABM courses at SACTU. This junior officer will then complete an exchange at 1 Regional Surveillance Unit, 41Wing (WG). This brings 16 ALR into line with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), who have a long history of sending their fighter controllers through SACTU courses before posting them to various ABM positions, such as 41 WG and 42 WG.
Going forward, as airspace deconfliction is an inherently Joint issue it is important that the services seek to complement, rather than duplicate, each other’s efforts while trying to solve the C2 questions posed by NASAMS. Ongoing exchanges are the first steps in developing better understanding between the services.
Differences between a Conscript and Volunteer NASAMS Unit
Another key difference when looking at how RNoAF employ NASAMS is the fact that they are a conscript military.
As such, all of their Private (equivalent) (PTE (E)) positions are filled by conscripts. These conscripts have an obligation of 12 months service, inclusive of training, before they are able to either nominate to become a JNCO or officer, or return to civilian life. Therefore, a detachment/section size element is made up of two JNCOs (who are no longer conscripts) and approximately five conscripts.
This means that for RNoAF, the GBAD Bn has a significant training liability each year as effectively all PTE (E) positions have to be trained from scratch. Understandably, this can lead to their soldiers focussing specifically on the piece of equipment that they are expected to specialise on for the duration of their service: for example, the launcher, command post (CP), communications (Comms) node or EO/IR (electro-optical and infrared) sensor. This is a necessaryfor the RNoAF, as within a 12 month period TUs have to train and integrate conscripts and be certified on national or NATO exercises.
Although Australia’s training continuum for NASAMs is yet to be finalised, it is reasonable to expect that soldiers graduating from the School of Artillery will have been trained on various pieces of NASAMS equipment. Consequently, upon arrival at 16 ALR soldiers will have the ability to work on launcher detachments (Dets), EO/IR Dets, Comms node Dets or within the CP. Such training will likely require a prolonged period of initial employment training. However, with soldiers having a four year initial period of service, this up-front investment in our soldiers’ training will reap significant rewards for the NASAMS capability into the future.
Recommended way forward for Australian GBAD
L19 7B presents the Joint Force with a fundamental change in capability through the acquisition of NASAMS. It is important that in going forward we seek to develop opportunities for exchange with NASAMS users. While Norway is the lead proponent of NASAMS, the ADF needs to remember that NASAMS were developed organically in Norway to serve a slightly different purpose and operate in a different environment to Australia. Through acquisition of HMLs, and a focus on support to Joint Force manoeuvre, 16 ALR will be using the system differently to all other current users. We must be cognisant of the complexities that will be generated by our relatively large Bty/TU size and be willing to constantly evolve our doctrine.
The ADF must strive to be experts in supporting manoeuvre and seek to become a centre of excellence for the Asia-Pacific region. To do this, developing bi-annual exercise opportunities with Indonesia’s NASAMS units should be explored. Whilst learning from each other’s NASAMS experience, such exercises would most likely also provide significant geo-political benefits.
While the delivery of the kinetic effect is important, what will decide the success of NASAMS in the ADF is the ability to properly integrate it into a RAAF CRC. As such, significant focus should be placed on developing relationships and exchanges between 16 ALR and the RAAF ABM community. Further dialogue should be developed between RAAF and 16 ALR on the best way to solve these complex C2 issues as we seek to complement each other’s skill sets.
With the introduction of the new capability, we should also be ready to invest significantly in the skillsets of our people. The challenges for the School of Artillery will be great as we strive to make our soldiers proficient across so many new pieces of equipment. We cannot expect our soldiers to go through training in a short timeframe like our Norwegian peers, as we will expect our soldiers to graduate with deeper and broader skillsets.
The next few years will present significant challenges for 16 ALR as we seek to maintain current capability while preparing for a once in a generation capability upgrade. It is a challenge the regiment is ready to accept.
About the author: Captain Joseph Thomas currently works in Regimental Operations at 16th Air Land Regiment. His previous positions include three years commanding a RBS 70 Troop and two years of working with the RAAF as a Ground Liaison Officer.