Australia’s Coastwatch: A Public-Private Model for Coast Guards and CBP
Australia’s long coast is also its border, and they’ve taken an innovative approach to the problem. Unlike, say, the US Coast Guard, Australia has semi-privatized the coastal patrol function, placing contractors under the Customs service. Once intruders are detected, these contractors can then call on pre-arranged support from civil authorities and/or the Royal Australian Navy and Air Force. Contracted services of this nature are becoming more common around the world, but Australia was really breaking new ground when they began Coastwatch on such a large scale in 1995.
Coastwatch was re-competed, and in 2006, Cobham’s subsidiary Surveillance Australia Pty Ltd retained the contract through the A$ 1+ billion next phase, called Project Sentinel. The new contract under Australia’s CMS04 (Civil Maritime Surveillance 04) program has expanded the fleet and addressed some concerns, but there are still areas where Australia lags a bit behind the leading edge. Even so, Coastwatch remain a touchstone program for countries considering a similar path.
Australia has a 38,000 km coastline and an Exclusive Economic Zone of 16 million square kilometres, and faces an increasing level of incursions. Illegal fishing and asylum-seekers who set themselves adrift to take advantage of Australia’s refugee laws (if they survive). As it became clear that its northern approaches held other resources beyond fish, the area’s sovereignty and safety acquired a high priority.
By 2005, the Coastwatch division of the Australian Customs Service contracted for the use of 15 fixed-wing aircraft and 2 helicopters from civil providers, and set annual availability quotas from Customs and Navy patrol vessels (about 1,800 hours) and RAAF AP-3C Orions (about 250 hours) under Operation Cranberry.
Except for contracted AP-3C availabilities from the RAAF, aerial surveillance is carried out by civilian operators. Indeed, the program is the world’s largest aerial civil maritime surveillance operation. It involves 170 personnel, flying 20,000 hours per year from 4 four permanent bases (Broome, Darwin, Horn Island and Cairns) around Australia’s northern coast. As of 2006, the Surveillance Australia fixed-wing aircraft roster included:
- 5 Dash-8 Q200 MPA aircraft fitted with Immarsat communications, SeaVue surveillance radar, infra-red sensors and daylight TV camera for long-range offshore surveillance.
- 3 Cessna Reims F406 turboprop aircraft fitted with surveillance radar and night vision systems for inshore surveillance.
- 6 Pilatus Britten-Norman BN2B Islander aircraft, fitted for the Visual Surveillance role.
- 1 Shrike AC500 Aero Commander, fitted for the Visual Surveillance Role.
As noted above, these contracted assets work hand-in-hand with civil and military authorities to thwart drug runners, people smugglers and illegal fishing. While the surveillance is carried out under the auspices of Customs, several agencies rely on the intelligence gathered, including the Australian Federal Police, Quarantine and Inspection Service, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Fisheries.
The New Fleet
Under the new 2006 Project Sentinel contract, Cobham companies will provide, operate and maintain an updated fleet of Dash-8 aircraft through to the year 2021, starting in January 2008. The new service based on Bombardier Dash-8 aircraft will double the fleet to provide all-weather, day and night electronic surveillance of Australia’s maritime Exclusive Economic Zone.
The new fleet will change to 10 Dash 8 planes: 6 Q200 aircraft, plus 4 longer-range and larger Q300 aircraft. During the modification program, the Q300s were equipped with additional fuel tanks in the fuselage, providing an additional 4,000 lbs. of fuel capacity in addition to their standard long-range tanks. The Project Sentinel Dash 8 MSAs are equipped with the latest versions of Raytheon’s SeaVue radar, L-3 Wescam’s MX-15 EO system and a new SIM system based on Galileo Avionica’s “ATOS.” SIM will automatically capture and integrate surveillance information from these surveillance aircraft, and transmit in near real time between other aircraft and the National Surveillance Centre.
The Islanders and Aero Commanders were slated for retirement per CMS04’s “all electronic surveillance” guidelines, and the Cessnas may have been retired as well.
Project Sentinel will also operate some helicopters, in order to patrol key areas. Australia’s Customs and Border Patrol has contracted at least 1 Bell 412EP, 1 Eurocopter AS350B3, and 1 Eurocopter EC145 for these roles.
Improving the Fleet
Australia’s border patrol authorities have been stretched by a flood of illegal fishing vessels, particularly from Indonesia. The influx has led to calls for the establishment of a state-based Coastguard in Western Australia. Meanwhile, more than 8,000 boats have been detected, resulting in at least 200 arrests. Fisheries officers have also expressed concern that the sophisticated radars used by Coastwatch aircraft and patrol vessels have difficulty picking up the small wooden boats used by Indonesian fishermen.
In order to keep Coastwatch capabilities up to date, the successful bidder will be required to improve detection capabilities over the life of the contract. Contenders had also been asked by Justice Minister Chris Ellison to use new technologies such as UAVs, advances in satellite imagery and new-generation radar to improve the reliability and range of Australia’s civil maritime border protection effort.
In 2006, Australia’s Ministry of Defence trialed pilotless spy planes to patrol vital North West Shelf oil and gas reserves off Western Australia. The General Atomics MQ-9 Mariner UAV was used, given the high-altitude, jet powered RQ-4B Global Hawk’s high cost and high demand. As a bonus, the Mariner uses the same SeaVue radar as Australia’s Dash 8s, which allows for good comparisons.
Australia is still debating its maritime UAV needs, and withdrew from the US Navy’s MQ-4C BAMS program in 2009. The withdrawal removes a potential shared asset, which could have helped supplement Coastwatch just as the manned AP-3C fleet does today. Meanwhile, in the trial’s aftermath there has been no movement on contracted UAV services like Mariner, or even Boeing’s smaller ScanEagle, to improve Coastwatch.
Contracts & Key Events
2007 – 2012
Oct 29/12: Extension. Cobham has reached a GBP 105 million/ A$ 163 million agreement with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, to extend their existing Sentinel aerial maritime surveillance contract by 2 years. This extension secures the contract until the end of 2021. Cobham plc [PDF].
Oct 1/10: SATCOM certified. Cobham SATCOM announces that their SB800 SwiftBroadband (SBB) System has been certified on CoastWatch’s Bombardier Dash-8 aircraft. With the SB800, Immarsat’s satellite network can be used to transfer the aircraft’s video and other sensor data to a land base for fast analysis.
The SB800 system works with the Immarsat constellation, and consists of an HGA-7001 antenna, SDU-7320 dual-channel satellite data unit, DAU-7060 Diplexer/Low noise amplifier and HPA-7450 High power amplifier. Cobham touts it as the most compact dual channel, class 6 SBB system available on the market. Cobham plc [PDF]
July 3/07: Helicopters. A new Australian Helicopters Pty Ltd Eurocopter AS350B3 Ecureuil arrives, and will replace a Bell Longranger IV in the Torres Strait per the Aug 29/05 contract.
Australian Helicopters Pty Ltd has been operating the Coastwatch helicopter surveillance and response service in the Torres Strait since 1995. They’ll operate the AS350 alongside a Bell 412 twin-engine helicopter, which has been upgraded with new surveillance and communications equipment to provide enhanced capabilities. Australia CBP.
Feb 1/07: SIMS, Helicopters. Australia’s CBP welcomes the first upgraded Dash 8 202 aircraft into service under the Sentinel program, complete with improved surveillance technology.
They also announce that Italy’s Galileo Avionica has won the opportunity to supply the new Surveillance Information Management System for the Dash 8s. SIM will automatically capture and integrate surveillance information from surveillance aircraft, and transmit in near real time between other aircraft and the National Surveillance Centre. The first aircraft will be fitted in October 2008, and the rest will be upgraded over time.
Finally, a new Rapid Response Helicopter service will be based in Gove which brings a new capability to detect and respond to landings or abandoned vessels, and combat illegal foreign fishing in Australia’s north and offshore regions. Helicopters (Australia) will operate a new EC145 twin-engine helicopter from April 2008, but provide a BK-117-B2 helicopter as an interim solution from May 2007 – April 2008. Australia CBP.
SIM & Helicopter contracts
2004 – 2006
May-September 2006: MQ-9 UAV. Australia’s government announces a September 2006 trial across Australia’s North West Shelf region, using a General Atomics MQ-9 Mariner Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and an Armidale Class patrol boat. Australian DoD release | Spacewar | DSTO mini-site.
May 2006: Australia’s 2006-07 budget proposal includes a number of measures to improve the protection of Australia’s northern borders, including an additional A$ 20.2 million to enable Customs to increase maritime surveillance flights over Australia’s northern approaches by 2,200 hours, and another A$ 338.9 million spread over numerous government agencies to combat illegal foreign fishing. See “Australia to Beef Up Northern Border Protection“.
March 6/06: Q300 order. Bombardier announces a $53 million order for 3 Dash 8 Q300 aircraft, from National Air Support of Adelaide, Australia.
In addition to the 3 new Q300 aircraft acquired from Bombardier, NAS will also purchase and convert 2 Dash 8s (1 Q200 and 1 Q300) from the existing fleet of sister company National Jet Systems. All 5 aircraft will then be delivered to Field Aviation Co. at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada for conversion to maritime patrol.
March 3/06: Contract. Cobham plc signs the CoastWatch contract with the government of Australia. It’s a 12-year, A$ 1 billion deal.
To fulfill the CMS04 contract’s new requirement for “all electronic surveillance” from January 2008, Cobham notes that the fleet will be augmented to 10 Bombardier Dash-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA): 5 upgraded Q200s, and 5 new Q300s, which are larger and offer longer range. Over time, the fleet will migrate toward this single fixed-wing type as other planes are retired. Each Dash-8 aircraft will be capable of searching an area of more than 110,000 km2 per flight, and the planes will operate from existing bases in Broome, Darwin, Horn Island and Cairns. Cobham plc.
Dec 7/05: Preferred bidder. Cobham is named as the Preferred Bidder for the 12-year, A$ 1bn Australian Coastwatch contract, beating Raytheon Australia. This isn’t a contract yet, but it means that negotiations with Cobham will be exclusive. Cobham plc | The Australian.
Aug 29/05: Helicopters. Australian Customs extends their relationship with Australian Helicopters Pty Ltd (AHPL), to provide another 12 years of helicopter surveillance and response service in the Torres Strait region. The new agreement is worth more than A$ 100 million over 12 years, and is also referred to as the Service B portion of the Civil Maritime Surveillance (CMS04) contract.
AHPL has been operating the Coastwatch helicopter surveillance and response service in the Torres Strait since 1995, with the current contract due to expire in June 2007. The new contract would begin in July 2007, and includes 1 new helicopter to replace the Bell Longranger IV in current service. Australian CBP.
CMS04 for helicopters
July 29/04: Extension. Cobham plc and the Australian government announce that the Coastwatch Civil Maritime Aerial Surveillance Contract held by their subsidiary, Surveillance Australia, will be extended to June 30/07 in an A$ 125 million deal. Surveillance Australia will re-compete the program beyond 2007.
CoastWatch has been operating since 1995, and Surveillance Australia’s fleet includes 5 Bombardier Dash 8 Q200 long range surveillance aircraft, 3 Cessna Reims F406 medium range surveillance aircraft, 6 twin-engine Britten-Norman Islanders, and 1 twin-engine Shrike aircraft. Cobham plc.
Additional Readings and Sources
- Australian Customs Service – Coastwatch, An Overview (via Wayback Machine)
- CASR; Excerpts from a Canadian Senate Committee on National Security and Defence report – The Hon. Colin Kenny, Chair (July 2004) – Maritime Security: Lessons Learned from Other Middle-Power’s Approaches to Guarding the Coasts – Australia
- Australian Ministerial Paper, The Hon Peter Reith MP, Minister for Defence (October 2001) – Coastal Surveillance and Protection: a “US-Style” Coast Guard or the Australian Coastwatch?
- Bombardier – Maritime Patrol and Search and Rescue
- Field Aviation – Case Study: Australia’s Coastwatch
- Cobham subsidiary Surveillance Australia. CoastWatch falls under the Special Mission category.
- Raytheon – SeaVue Overland and Maritime Surveillance Radar. It also operates on the MQ-9 Mariner used by US Customs and Border Patrol.
- SELEX Galileo – SIM Australia [PDF]
- L-3 WESCAM – The MX-15i. Surveillance turret.
- DID (Nov 18/05) – Australian Agreement re: A$ 1B+ AP-3C Orion Support & Upgrade Program. The RAAF’s AP-3Cs will support Coastwatch, as noted above.
- DID – P-8 Poseidon MMA: Long-Range Maritime Patrol, and More. Australia will buy this 737-derived MPA. Once it arrives, it will support Coastwatch, just as the AP-3Cs do.
- DID – Kicking it Up a Notch: Poseidon’s Unmanned MQ-4C BAMS Companion. Australia left the program in 2009, but could choose to buy this Global Hawk derivative later.
Additional Readings and Sources: Related
- CASR (July 2002) – Australia’s ‘Coastwatch’ – What Can Canada Learn?
- CASR – A Modest Proposal – SAR Aircraft: Rethinking Search and Rescue
- Australia Defence (Jan 10/08) – Aerosonde prepares for Coastwatch opportunities. UAV trial in the Torres Strait.
- DID (Dec 2/05) – Global Hawk UAV Prepares for Maritime Role
- Military.com – BORDERLINE: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Homeland Security. Includes Britain’s Watchkeeper & the USA’s Mariner.