26 September 2023

New Navy Maritime Underwater Tracking Range to be built off WA coast

| Andrew McLaughlin
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A Royal Australian Navy Collins class submarine at periscope depth. Photo: US Navy via ADF.

The Royal Australian Navy will soon be getting a new Maritime Underwater Tracking Range (MUTR) to replace one that was decommissioned more than a decade ago.

The new MUTR will be built and sustained for 20 years by L3Harris Australia at a cost of up to $328 million and is being managed through Defence’s Project SEA 1350 Phase 3 program.

“We’re committed to growing Australian defence capabilities by leveraging our global technology and experience to develop Australia’s sovereign maritime underwater tracking range approach,” L3Harris Corporate Vice President and Australia Country Executive Alan Clements said in a 20 September company statement.

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“This is an important competence now and into the future as we continue to modernise and enhance maritime platforms and systems,” he added.

The MUTR will be built off the coast of Western Australia, close to the Navy’s main west coast operating base HMAS Stirling located near Fremantle, and shipbuilding facilities at nearby Henderson.

The MUTR is essentially an instrumented range that can track submarines, uncrewed and autonomous underwater vehicles, torpedoes and surface ships, and can accurately measure their acoustic signatures, speed and course.

It will allow Australian and allied surface vessels and submarines to conduct sub-surface tracking proficiency training and to develop tactics for operational scenarios. It will facilitate exercises in deep ocean and littoral (coastal) waters with crewed and uncrewed surface vessels and submarines, and will enhance the Navy’s ability to test and evaluate the readiness of platforms and their weapon systems.

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The tender for the MUTR was released in November 2020 and closed in January 2021. Then-Defence Minister Senator Linda Reynolds described the eventual capability as a “three-dimensional laboratory”.

“By investing in technology which will strengthen our understanding of the best and most effective way to use our weapons, decoys and platforms, we are enabling our submarines and other maritime warfighting capabilities to operate with superiority while protecting Australia’s interests,” she said at the time.

“The range will allow our Navy, our allies and partners to fine-tune our anti-submarine warfare tactics to deliver the technology edge needed in the future,” she added. “The delivery of this sovereign capability is also expected to provide a much-needed boost for Australian industry by creating opportunities for businesses to participate in the installation and ongoing sustainment of the range.”

With a greater emphasis to be placed on submarine capabilities with increased west coast port visits by US and UK submarines in the medium term, and in the longer term the planned acquisition of about nine nuclear-powered submarines by Australia under the AUKUS agreement, the construction of the MUTR is a vital enabling capability for the Navy.

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