Quiet achievers in safety

Published on SGT Max Bree (author and photographer)

Topic(s): Training, HMAS Watson

Royal Australian Navy sailor Leading Seaman Cryptologic Systems Nicholas Martin works at the Defence Signals Directorate in Canberra. (photo: SGT Max Bree)
Royal Australian Navy sailor Leading Seaman Cryptologic Systems Nicholas Martin works at the Defence Signals Directorate in Canberra.

You might not see the work of cryptologic systems (CTS) sailors on board your ship, but their time immersed in signals and intelligence could be the thing keeping everyone safe.

In their compartments, CTS sailors intercept, record and analyse communications and other transmissions to gain a tactical advantage. Before stepping into their specialist role, CT sailors receive 12 weeks’ training at HMAS Watson’s School of Maritime Warfare – Intelligence to become CT operators (CTO).

Once sailors have consolidated these skills, they undertake specialisation training as CTS sailors. LSCTS Nicholas Martin, a former barista and picture framer, spent several deployments working in the cryptologic sections of many HMA ships.

“Ships can sail without us but we add a capability to the mission that not a lot of people realise we add,” LS Martin said.

“We’re the wider link back to the intelligence communities. Without us, command may miss out on tactical information they wouldn’t even realise they are missing out on.

“If we weren’t on board in a wartime scenario that could be the difference between the ship getting shot or not. We’re providing situational awareness the platform otherwise might not have.

“Usually it’s only the PWO and command team in the operations room who know what we’re bringing to the mission.

“Everyone else tries to guess what exactly it is we do, but if they really knew they would want to know more. It can be exciting work.”

Once assigned to a platform, CTS sailors immerse themselves in the intelligence available for the upcoming mission, joining the ship before work-ups to allow time for integration with the crew.

“We don’t tend to spend a lot of time alongside. We generally pack up and post off the day we return from deployment,” LS Martin said.

“The demand on the capability is so high that our equipment is quickly turned around by our maintainers and often installed in the next platform shortly after.”

Transferring to the CTS category could be the right move for many sailors who feel they’re not being given the opportunity to work to their true potential.

“I reckon there are a lot of intelligent people in the Navy who might find their day-to-day work a bit mundane or boring and are looking for a challenge,” LS Martin said.

“The CT category can offer these people something to really push their boundaries.

“I haven’t had a job this challenging in my life. I am using my mental abilities to their full capacity for something that matters, working on projects I wouldn’t even be aware existed in most other industries.

“It’s awesome when you’re putting out a report you know is going to affect something in the world, or when you’re passing on intelligence you know is going to affect the mission.”

CTS Role - duties a cryptologic systems (CTS) sailor might perform include:

  • Prepare and present intelligence briefs, conduct briefs, provide advice to ship’s company and commanders;
  • Manually tune or program radio receivers and manipulate automated systems to prosecute known or unknown frequencies within the radio frequency spectrum;
  • Search, identify, analyse and report on transmissions of interest;
  • Use state-of-the-art high-tech equipment to record selected or unknown transmissions, to enable in-depth analysis of these signals;
  • At sea, conduct initial real-time (tactical) and post-intercept in-depth analysis of communications using sophisticated equipment in conjunction with a maths- and physics-based analytical process;
  • Provide tactical indication of possible threats to warships or units being supported, and produce technical reports and summaries on transmissions of interest;
  • Operate other specific systems as required to support intelligence tasking and reporting requirements.

CTS Training - Cryptologic systems (CTS) sailors receive training in:

  • Communications theory, including radio-wave propagation;
  • Operation of acquisition, recording and processing equipment;
  • Analytical techniques including methodical problem-solving;
  • Communications networks; formats, terminology and theory of pattern analysis;
  • Methods for handling, distributing and safeguarding intelligence information;
  • The fighting structure of foreign military forces.