14.07.2023

DEWC Services provides key capability support to MH-60R Romeo helicopters

Image credit: Defence Photos
Considered the most advanced anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare helicopter in the world, the MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ maritime helicopter has radically enhanced Australia’s maritime combat capability, but without the expertise of South Australian Electronic Warfare specialist, DEWC Services, it wouldn’t be a capable and cutting-edge asset for the Royal Australian Navy today.

As a leading industry partner on the program, DEWC Services’ support – which has largely flown under the radar – stretches back seven years. The company has been a driving force behind key capability support and enhancements to the aircraft, setting the foundation for the platform to continue to succeed against emerging threats for decades to come.

Replacing the S-70B-2 Seahawk ‘Bravo’ helicopters, RAN’s fleet of 24 Romeo helicopters, which were delivered from the US Navy to Australia between 2013 and 2014, were fitted with a next-generation, multi-sensor integrated sensor suite. Complete with contemporary data links and a proprietary data fusion system, the Romeo was Australia’s first operational aircraft with such technology and supported by a JEWOSU team delivering mission data products.

The Commonwealth partnered with DEWC Services in April 2016 to leverage the company’s technical expertise in Mission Data engineering, however DEWC’s role has since evolved to support the RAN with key capability design and development decisions, and provide training to build the technical workforce on the program. 

DEWC Services Program Manager, Rian Whitby, who has worked on the program, both as an officer in charge of the Navy Rotary Wing section of the JEWOSU and then with DEWC Services, providing specialist engineering and expert advisory support for the past three years, said the company continues to work in close partnership with Defence to evolve the capability of the platform in line with the changing threat environment and technology advancements.

“The Electronic Warfare System is essentially the eyes of the aircraft in the Electromagnetic Spectrum, allowing operators to see, understand and respond to a dynamic operating environment” he said.

“Threats and advisories continue to evolve with electronic and cyber technology advancements, with radars becoming more adaptive and software-defined. Our sensor systems need both the technology and the support system to respond to these adaptations, including considering the application of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to identify and responding to threats in the environment.”

“DEWC Services plays an important capability advisor role, having supported the Fleet Air Arm and Navy Headquarters with key capability risk and design decisions for many years now. We’ve been working collaboratively with Lockheed Martin domestically and abroad, the US Navy and the broader Royal Australian Navy to understand how we move our systems forward on that journey of embracing the significant potential of emerging technologies.”

One of DEWC Services primary roles is the development of specialist Mission Data Libraries (MDL), a highly technical function which has been optimised through DEWC Services application of specialised Electronic Warfare Engineering skills and the development and employment of automated and adaptive toolsets. This function involves threat analysis and sensor engineering ensuring that the Romeo is fine tuned to operate in the EMS and support mission success through improved awareness, threat response and increased survivability.

“Australia has responsibility for one of the largest maritime regions in the world, in addition to operating in National interests in both permissible and non-permissible environments across the world. The region, the context of operation and the threat geopolitics drive different operational priorities and demands on the Romeo’s Mission Systems,” Whitby said.

“Understandably, the operational focus and priorities for identification and response will be extremely different if providing humanitarian assistance or disaster relief to an allied nation in response to a natural disaster, when compared to support a coalition response to a hostile state actor in a declared operational environment. We develop and adapt products in an agile fashion, to support the Romeo to deliver National Security outcomes, regardless of the operating context.”

Within the first 12 months of DEWC Services’ involvement in the program, JEWOSU Navy Rotary Wing section reported an increase in MDL production of approximately 400 per cent – disproportionate to the increase in workforce of approximately 35 per cent. JEWOSU EW Library production, which was reported as a capability risk in 2015, was recognised as a strength of the platform moving into 2017.

“For us to deliver a 400 per cent increase in product delivery in that first year and broadly maintain or exceed that rate of effort for seven straight years shows what can be achieved from quite a small team with the right technical expertise – particularly in the context of the evolving threat and technology landscape,” Whitby said.

DEWC Services is now focused on training and upskilling technical staff to help program specialist mission data libraries, as well as support operational staff, such as air crews and sensor operators, to understand how to best use these data libraries during operations.

Whitby said the company is committed to building the long-term expert workforce on the program, and over the last seven years has trained over a dozen technical staff, who have received around 20 discrete authorisations in specific engineering areas.

“We are the experts who periodically raise and train staff as they come through the section, and we are continually increasing capacity across the integrated team,” he said.

“We train fellow technical staff to support these specialist mission data libraries and support operational staff to understand some of the strengths and limitations of the systems, informing the operational use of these systems to get the most out of the Romeo platform.”

With Australia’s Defence Force set to acquire 12 additional MH-60R Romeo helicopters by 2026, DEWC Services stands ready to support the RAN to ensure the new multi-mission helicopter is optimised for the changing threat and operating environment.

“The challenge presented to Navy as they rationalise the maritime helicopter fleet, is ensuring that the support provided to the missions systems on the aircraft considered the changing concept of employment for the platform – ensuring we manage optimise the capability for, and manage risk to, operating in those additional roles,” Whitby said.

“We know this platform and we are Australia’s experts in providing Mission Data support, to both the Romeo and the broader ADF. We are uniquely positioned to be able to adapt alongside Commonwealth to make sure the Romeo is optimised for the nature and region of operations and are excited to evolve our support to meet Defence’s needs.”

Over the past 10 years, DEWC Services has built a reputation of trust, expertise and professionalism, with a team of professionals delivering specialist capabilities not just on the Naval MH-60R helicopter, but a range of other Defence projects proving expert C4ISREW services.