Singapore, US navies successfully conclude joint TORPEX during CARAT Singapore 2014
Kelvin Wong, Singapore - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
10 August 2014
A Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk takes off from the Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer USS Wayne E Meyer with a recoverable exercise torpedo. Source: US Navy
• The Republic of Singapore Navy and United States Navy have conducted a combined torpedo firing during the bilateral 'CARAT Singapore 2014' exercise
• The complexity of the combined torpedo firing demonstrated the high level of interoperability and trust between the two navies
The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and United States Navy (USN) conducted a combined torpedo firing exercise (TORPEX) as part of a joint anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission during the 'Co-operation Afloat Readiness and Training' ('CARAT') exercise on 6 August, the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) announced.
RSS Stalwart fires a recoverable exercise torpedo in a combined anti-submarine warfare exercise during 'CARAT Singapore 2014'. (Republic of Singapore Navy)
During the combined TORPEX, which was the central event of 'CARAT Singapore 2014', the RSN's Formidable-class frigate RSS Stalwart fired an exercise torpedo against an "underwater transponder target". Two naval helicopters - an S-70B Seahawk from the RSS Formidable and a MH-60R Seahawk Romeo from the USN's Arleigh Burke (Flight IIA)-class guided missile destroyer USS Wayne E Meyer - also launched exercise torpedoes against the same target.
Rear Admiral Charles Williams, commander of USN 7th Fleet's Combined Task Force 73 (CTF-73), told IHS Jane's on 8 August that ASW missions are challenging even for well-trained and equipped naval forces, given the complex "sensor to shooter" chain - which involves multiple air and surface units - as well as the difficulties of finding and tracking a stealthy target over a potentially large area.
"If you know nothing else about ASW, suffice it to say that it's very difficult. Getting the detect-to-engage sequence right requires methodical analysis of multiple information streams and co-ordination of surface, air, and if you're lucky, subsurface assets," he said.
Details of the underwater target were not disclosed by MINDEF, although both navies confirmed it was "less predictable" and "more challenging" than the pre-programmed profile of Mk 39 Expendable Mobile ASW Training Target (EMATT) vehicles typically employed to train crews aboard ASW-equipped air and surface platforms.
Developed by Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training, the EMATT is a sonobuoy-sized underwater vehicle measuring 915 mm long and 124 mm wide, and weighing 10 kg. It travels underwater at a depth of 23-183 m, transmitting active sonar signals that simulate the echo from an actual submarine. The vehicle can reach a top speed of 8 kt and has a maximum endurance of six hours.
Detailing the sequence of the TORPEX event, Lieutenant Commander Clay Doss, a spokesperson for CTF-73, told IHS Jane's that the exercise started with a simulated torpedo firing by the underwater target - which took on a role of a hostile submarine - against the participating surface forces. First to respond to the simulated threat was RSS Stalwart , which fired a recoverable exercise torpedo and guided the Formidable 's S-70B helicopter to the last known co-ordinates of the target. Gaining a positive track on the target, the S-70B launched its own exercise torpedo.
Following the RSN torpedo firings, Wayne E Meyer vectored its embarked MH-60R helicopter to the target's location, which subsequently launched the third and final exercise torpedo. With this launch, the surface forces detected simulated subsurface "primary and secondary explosions", indicating the successful destruction of the simulated target and the conclusion of the TORPEX.
"During this time, all of the surface vessels were using their active and passive sonar systems to track the target and assess whether the torpedoes made contact," Lt Cdr Doss said.
Sailors from the USS Wayne E Meyer recover an exercise torpedo after a successful launch by the destroyer's embarked MH-60R naval helicopter during'CARAT Singapore 2014'. (US Navy)
Marshalling other assets in a joint operation adds another level of complexity to ASW missions, he said. "Employing a combined task force makes it even harder because you have to communicate between assets of two different navies, assess and analyse all the incoming information, and make decisions [through multiple channels] in a very fluid environment," he said.
Senior Lieutenant Colonel Desmond Low, commanding officer of Stalwart , said that the exercise "underscores the high level of interoperability between both navies in complex maritime operations".
Adm Williams added that "with 20 years of practice during CARAT, it's no surprise that our navies work together easily during very difficult evolutions".
Held annually since 1995, 'CARAT' is a series of bilateral naval exercises conducted by the USN's 7th Fleet with several Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members and other South Asian nations. CARAT participant countries currently include Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste.
'CARAT Singapore 2014' finished on 8 August, and involved two submarines, five naval helicopters, six ships, nine fixed-wing aircraft, and 1,400 personnel from both countries.
While the Singapore phase of the 'CARAT' exercise series typically features a wide spectrum of high end naval missions such as air defence, anti-surface (ASuW), and anti-submarine warfare (ASW), the specific focus of this year's ASW exercise, with a complex combined torpedo drill, is likely to hold greater significance beyond a demonstration of enhanced interoperability and trust between the Singapore and US navies.
Asia-Pacific countries have shown a keen interest in the acquisition of submarines in recent years - particularly small, manoeuvrable diesel-electric platforms (SSKs) equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems that enhance their underwater endurance - and IHS Jane's forecasts that more than 80 new submarines could be acquired by Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam by 2022.
While Lt Cdr Doss did not specify whether the TORPEX scenario simulated a hostile SSK operating in Southeast Asia's littoral waters, he noted that the shallow depths and high ambient noise from dense shipping traffic in the region add "another level of complexity" to ASW operations.
Moreover, 'CARAT Singapore 2014' has afforded the USN an opportunity to once again train with (and against) one of the RSN's two AIP-equipped Archer-class SSKs - which are optimised for littoral operations - in these challenging conditions. MINDEF declined to disclose which of the two Archer SSKs was involved in this year's exercise, although a spokesperson told IHS Jane's that the submarine participated in tactical free-play with the USN's surface and subsurface assets.
The ASW focus was made even more pronounced with the inaugural deployment of the USN's latest Boeing P-8A multimission maritime aircraft, which took on airborne command and control as well as surveillance duties during the exercise. It is not known if the P-8A played an active ASW role against the Archer SSK during the tactical free-play parts of the exercise, but it is hard to imagine that the USN would let such an opportunity slip.