16th Regiment at Woomera Test Range

Photo: PTE Nicholas Marquis

The Australian Defence Force achieved a significant milestone with the inaugural live-fire exercise of the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) from the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) at the Woomera Test Range. Executed by personnel from the esteemed 16th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, this event, which transpired on November 14, marked a crucial phase in integrating the recently acquired enhanced NASAMS into the nation’s military capabilities.

The enhanced NASAMS, a ground-based air defence system with a focus on short-range capabilities, was put to the test at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. This exercise aligns with the recommendations outlined in the Defence Strategic Review earlier in the year, aiming to fortify the Australian Army’s force protection system.

The live-fire demonstration garnered attention from high-ranking officials, including Chief of Army Lieutenant General Simon Stuart, Major General Andrew Bottrell, and representatives from both Australian and international Defence circles. Their presence underscored the strategic importance of this advancement in Australia’s military capabilities.

In a notable precursor to the live-fire event, the 16th Regiment gunners were introduced to the NASAMS system during a trial and certification activity near Jervis Bay in May. The system, an enhanced iteration of the original Norwegian design, incorporates Australian radar technology, a launcher based on the Hawkei platform, and an infrared/optical sensor. This amalgamation represents the foundational element of the Australian Defence Force’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence program.

Looking forward, the 16th Regiment is slated to deploy two batteries when fully operational capability is achieved by 2026. However, concerns have arisen regarding the adequacy of the SAM batteries, especially considering the decision to reduce each battery’s launchers from 6 to 3. This move, while logical from a logistical standpoint, prompts discussions about the overall sufficiency of Australia’s air defence infrastructure.

Comparisons have been drawn with other nations, notably Israel, which, despite its smaller size, boasts a greater number of SAM batteries. Furthermore, the absence of a three-layer defence bubble in most Australian states raises questions about the nation’s overall preparedness.

To address these concerns, some advocate for augmenting the existing SAM batteries with additional SM-6 launchers or their equivalents, aligning with the evolving landscape of direct energy weapons. Another proposed solution involves deploying the Aegis land-based defence system strategically at Fleet Base West, Darwin, and Fleet Base East. This strategic placement would create a comprehensive defence network, with NASAMS SHORAD fulfilling roles beyond the coverage of the Aegis system.

In conclusion, while the successful live-fire exercise at Woomera Test Range signifies a significant step forward in Australia’s air defence capabilities, ongoing deliberations about the optimal configuration of SAM batteries underscore the evolving nature of modern warfare and the imperative for a robust and adaptable defence infrastructure.


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