While she may be the last Australian guided missile frigate to deploy to Operation MANITOU, HMAS Newcastle is the first to deploy on operations with an MH60R helicopter and a ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial System.
Commanding Officer Newcastle Commander Mark Sirois said their pre-deployment work-up involved integration of the new capabilities.
“We prepared the ship in all respects for the mission and ensured our combat systems were good to go, which included firing a Standard Missile 2 off the east coast, the first firing conducted in Australian waters,” Commander Sirois said.
“It wasn’t only training, as we did a lot of evaluation of being able to cope with multiple tasks such as boarding operations and searching for illicit weapons or drugs, to dealing with emergencies or warfare at sea.”
Commander Sirois said the MH60R was a very different aircraft, with a lot of sensors, and was extremely capable in all spheres of warfare.
“There were changes with the ScanEagle, as we needed to install extra antennas and train members of the ship’s company in setting up the launch-and-recovery equipment on the flight deck to perform day and night missions in different environments and sea states,” he said.
“So far we’ve flown the ScanEagle both day and night and it’s given us an excellent video feed – it’s an amazing sensor.”
Commander Sirois said the next step was integrating the ScanEagle with the MH60R, either simultaneously or one after the other.
“We need to see how it works and what challenges it means for the ship to have a constant airborne surveillance feed available,” he said.
“It’s a superb capability enhancement and means I have an aerial surveillance capability I can maintain for a lot longer.
“The surveillance gathering capability means I can make improved command decisions about whether a vessel is a target of interest or not – it’s mind-blowing.”
Newcastle and her ship’s company of 230 will relieve HMAS Arunta and be assigned to the Combined Maritime Forces for about six months.
The Combined Maritime Forces is comprised of three principal task forces, with the main focus areas of defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, encouraging regional cooperation and promoting a safe maritime environment.
Commander Sirois said it was important for Australia to be a part of Combined Task Force 150, which conducts counter-terrorism and maritime security operations, Combined Task Force 151, which conducts counter piracy operations, and Combined Task Force 152, which conducts Persian Gulf maritime security operations.
“It’s about enhancing security for the local nations and security for Australia,” he said.
“There are huge strategic benefits for maintaining safe sea lanes in the region and allowing commerce to safely proceed through the area.
“We are also stopping funding for terrorist organisations, which can directly impact the day-to-day lives of normal Australians.
“The crew is ready to do the job – we’ve gone through a lot of hard yards, but they are motivated and extremely professional.
“They’re a bunch of ordinary Aussies who do amazing work.”
Newcastle participated in exercises with the Indian Navy off the Western Australian coast earlier this month before sailing north.
This deployment will be the end of Commander Sirois’s current seagoing command. He will hand over command on return to Australia to Commander Anita Sellick, who will command Newcastle until the ship decommissions in 2019.