Saab sees its upgraded RBS-70NG missile system as part of a possible solution to the Australian requirement. (Saab)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Australia plans to include a replacement for its Saab RBS-70 very-short-range air defense missile system in its next Defence Capability Plan.
The Australian Army uses the RBS-70 system, along with the Lockheed Martin PSTAR-ER radar, to fulfill its ground-based air defense (GBAD) requirements, but an Australian Defence Force (ADF) spokesperson confirmed the combination was not considered adequate to defeat future threats.
“It is a dated, line-of-sight system missile that provides very-short-range GBAD and lacks the sensors, range and performance to protect against the likely threats of today’s helicopters, UAVs, stand-off aerial weapons, cruise missiles and rockets, artillery, mortars,” the spokesperson said.
The ADF is developing future ground-based air and missile defense requirements and examining options in the marketplace.
The new system will be acquired under the ongoing Project Land 17 Phase 7B, but has yet to gain much traction.
“The system is planned to provide the Joint Force with persistent defense against advanced threats including aircraft, helicopters,” the spokesperson said. “Land 19 Phase 7B is planned to have wide utility across many types of defense operations, not just application in conventional warlike operations.”
The Australian government will give first pass approval in fiscal 2016-2017, which the ADF says will allow time to initiate formal market solicitation. Acquisition is estimated to be between AUS $500 million (US $469 million) and AUS $1 billion.
Government approval for acquisition would be sought in fiscal 2017-2018.
Army initial operational capability is planned for fiscal 2020 to 2021.
“Land 19 Phase 7B will enhance or replace the existing GBAD system to allow it to function as a complete ground-based force protection system,” the ADF spokesperson said. “In a traditional combat setting it is planned to perform its core functions of airspace surveillance and identification, target tracking, target interception and destruction to provide an enhanced level of protection against current and emerging threats.”
The spokesperson said the project is modeled after the National Advanced surface-to-air missile system used by a number of European nations, and also by the US National Guard in defense of Washington.
“The US chose a ground-based system as the other options of continuous air combat patrols or permanently stationed air-warfare ships were more expensive, manpower-intensive and less persistent,” a spokesman for the project office said. “It was due to this system maturity and broad user group that it was selected as an exemplar to allow the early development work to progress.”
In 2012, the Australian Army took delivery of three Saab Giraffe agile multibeam (GAMB) radar systems under an urgent acquisition process to provide its base at Tarin Kot in Afghanistan with a counter-rocket, artillery and mortar capability.
Since the Australian withdrawal of most of its forces from Afghanistan, the two operational GAMB radars have been returned to Australia (the third had been retained locally for training) but do not have a clear role in domestic operations.
Saab Australia sees the Giraffe AMB, together with its upgraded RBS-70NG missile system, as a possible solution to the Australian requirement.
The missiles used by the RBS-70NG are identical to those in the earlier system already in use with the Army and comprise the third-generation Mk.2, with an effective range of 7 kilometers at heights up to 4,000 meters; and the fourth-generation Bolide round, capable of knocking down targets at distances up to 8 kilometers and altitudes up to 5,000 meters.
The company says the major change is to the sight, which has an integrated thermal imager, an auto-tracking system to improve aiming and guidance, automatic after-action video capability, and 3D visual cueing. This feature receives data from the surveillance radar, allowing the operator to find the target without actually seeing it first.
Saab officials claim that during recent comparative trials in India, RBS-70NG operators were getting their shot away before their competitors systems had even acquired the target.
The RBS-70NG also incorporates an identify friend or foe interrogator system as standard equipment while Saab works to integrate it with land vehicles, delivering a tactical, mobile GBAD system.
The company is proposing to upgrade Australia’s GAMB radars, including provision of a Link 16 datalink, and swap out the RBS-70 launchers for the upgraded equipment at what it claims is a modest cost.
The company has also integrated other missile systems with GAMB, including Raytheon’s I-Hawk and Diehl’s IRIS-T.
“We think it will be attractive to the ADF because Australia is already an RBS-70 user,” explained Jessica Rylander, an engineer with Saab’s Dynamics branch. “And the difference from an operator’s perspective is the increased” kill probability, she said.
The RBS-70NG sight enhances the capability of the Bolide missile by reducing tracking noise, increasing maneuverability and improving performance against small targets at maximum range, according to Saab.
“The RBS-70NG and Giraffe AMB solution is designed to address targets such as small UAVs, cruise missiles and helicopters in the 2025 space,” added Mat Jones, Saab Asia-Pacific business development manager.
“We are investing a lot of time, effort and money into GBAD, to ensure the architecture is future-proofed. The RBS-70NG/GAMB combination could provide a step change in capability, within the existing budget,” said Jones.
But much will depend on the final specifications mandated by Land 19/7B when the Defence Capability Plan is made public next year. ■