Peter La Franchi/ADELAIDE

The Australian Army is exploring the acquisition of shore-based anti-ship missiles (ASMs) as part of evolving plans for its future firepower architecture. The move highlights an army push to regain control of Joint Project 117 for a new generation surface-to-air missile.

The plans may also include artillery-spotting unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).

Project 117 was transferred to Royal Australian Air Force administration last year. The army warns that future land operations will demand an improved air defence capability at the lowest levels of the land force structure.

Brig Jim Wallace, director general of land development in the Australian Defence Headquarters, told the Australian Army's Land Weapons System Conference in Adelaide last month that planning for ground-based air defence needs to become "a lot more serious".

The land force needs to accept that it will encounter stand-off weapons, says Wallace. "We are going to need integrated air defence down to much lower levels. And if we believe that we can use stand-off weapons against the enemy, then we have got to accept that he is going to use them against us," he adds.

An ASM capability is being considered "as a means of closing off maritime approaches, keeping someone's naval assets and all the firepower that brings with it away from the ability to interdict the land battle", he says.

Future deployment scenarios involve army operations in coastal areas, including the direct defence of Australia as well as missions in South East Asia, says Wallace.

The army has analysed a coastal defence variant of the Boeing Hellfire missile and the LFK Polyphem fibre-optic guided weapon.

Wallace acknowledges that Polyphem is a candidate, but cautions that the missile is outside the army's funding abilities. The issue of cost "is an extremely important one to us", he adds.

Wallace says field trials of UAVs in artillery-spotting roles form part of an ongoing series of battlefield experiments. This includes the formation of UAV spotter batteries as part of artillery brigade structures, although army aviation units are arguing for the right of control.

"We have to get past that functionally and so we are trying to create a sensor-shooter architecture over the [land] manoeuvre commander that he can link into and pull down. We have to ensure that we organise it along functional, not turf, lines," says Wallace.

Source: Flight International