The Harold Holt coms station Northern Western Australia
To the outsider they would not have a clue, the large white domes for radar and satellite tracking dishes, massive antenna farms for the VLF communications systems were like so many other Military installations. The Holt installation however was vastly different, designed from the outset to talk with to submarines operating deep across the western pacific and Indian oceans and any surface vessel they might decide to speak with, DSD, RAN, USN or other partners as they determined was required. What gave the installation its real sense of difference was the squat box like vehicles parked around the site at selected intervals…almost like short semi-trailers but tilted somewhat. The Holt station carried its own very capable contingent of Surface to Missile Batteries, Patriot Block 4 units capable of intercepting a ballistic inbound.
To the casual observer It was quiet, inside the long stark rectangular facilities however, it was far from this, the facilities newest system and final leg of the “Blue ring” SOSUS system having finally come on line. Project light blue was now complete.
The RAN, along with Singapore and Malaysia 7 years before hand in secret founded “ Project -Light Blue ‘ which was a project ran by the Australian Defence Signals Directorate, loosely attached also to the CNO for the RAN. Project ‘Light Blue’ was funded unlike any other entity in the ADF in that the funds came from a foreign powers, in this case both Singapore and Malaysia and from within special branches of their respective defence forces and some black funding from ASIO.
Light Blue was not large, its total staffing numbering no more than 400 personnel, it land holdings however were large and the tech they employed was cutting edge signal processing, microprocessors and algorithms. But all this tech was housed inside existing facilities making its creation and concealment that much easier for the users.
“Sir I have a new transient, bearing 265, range 2400 meters and decreasing on array 1 Sir” Called the young watch officer sitting at his brand new Blue Ring console.
The “ Sneaker Room “ as it was called, was effectively the master control and tracking room for the “Blue ring system” operation with a duplicate based in Singapore as well, this one here at the Holt centre in remote Western Australia was the master control room. Links Direct to the ADF HQ in Canberra and their Nation states services in Malaysia and Singapore as well, plus the US and Great Britain gave them clout, it also gave them exchange of data and that data….. Was anything that moved which was not a fish in or on the oceans in the entire Indian Ocean and Western Pacific.
The CSIRO and the ADF’s DSTO had come up with the new array system which had prompted Project light blue, or as they knew it, turning Dark ocean areas into light blue and making tracking subs that much easier. And hence, the system was called Blue Ring after the Octopus and its many arms, whose bite was extremely poisonous.
The Blue Ring system, now that it was fully implemented to its current funding parameters had no less than 11 arrays strung out in various locations across the western pacific and the Indian Ocean. These arrays, we like no others, certainly 2 generations or better than the units which were being operated in the GIUK Gap SOSUS systems tracking soviet subs. Apart from the hydrophones and signal processing technology which everybody knew had advanced, the Blue Ring arrays differed in that the hydrophones were at variable depths and this could be changed.
As each section of cable was fed out and the hydrophone packages were attached, a present depth pressure switch reading was input into the hydrophones programming and this was based on known water temperatures for set depths in the area. Once the array had been laid and was activated, the various box like structures attached to it opened and a small helium bladder filled, pulling the hydrophone up and out to its set depth. As soon as the microprocessor detected the required depth, the clamps were applied and the cable ceased spooling out of the head unit. The on-board microprocessor then setting up the hydrophone, taking a water temperature reading before fully self-testing and reporting into the array controller. It was the variable depths of the hydrophones that enabled the Blue Ring system to perform so brilliantly, having sensors both above and below the various thermocline layers made tracking subs far easier than anyone had thought. But the system still had one more benefit, its construction was modular, almost plug and play which allowed the ‘Box Fish’ ASW torpedo system to be attached and operated from the same console once the software was upgraded and the hardware was placed on the seabed floor.
The Major on duty from the Australian Army, Major Brian Bourke, stood up and stretched, then, straightening his Oz Cam jumper down over his bunny rabbit pattern camo pants headed for the operators console. The Australian Army had returned back to its Hearts and Rabbits style camouflage pattern after dabbling in the US system, the ADF finding geographically the previous pattern as being more effective and so did the Major and his many colleagues.
“ Let’s get a status on the box fish mounts and I want to know the status of the Kestrels at Curtain” he said as he saddled up to the watch officer, looking up at the big screen he placed his hand on the young operators shoulder,
“Ok Son, let’s have a lookie here at what’s going on:” the Major Paused for a couple of seconds before standing up”, what do you think” he enquired lightly to the watch officer as he looked around at the other operators taking in all that was happening and looking for signs of issues.
The watch officer as he was called was a young civilian called Mark Ballinger, still in his mid-twenties having recently graduated from Deakin University and now within the civilian arm of Defence for almost 2 years.
“Sir We have the target at the extreme end of array one and also on the sensors of Stone Fish unit 8, that’s giving us our triangulation, I make his depth “ It was a he now the target the watch officer was describing ,” His depth is 120 meters Sir and descending into the trough, he’s not long exited the Lombok Straight Sir “.
Major Bourke was the study of concentration, the target which was almost certainly a SSK diesel electric submarine of some origin, the young officer not yet having enough data to classify the type, had just appeared on their scopes.
‘That’s the bloody problem with the new SSK’s’ thought the Major, ‘Too quiet nowadays, but not for Blue Ring” he thought, as a thin barely perceptible smile crept across his face.
The Major stood slightly and placed his hand on the back of the operators high backed chair and looking up at the systems status board and myriad of status screen for the ADF.
“Watch officer, let’s get RAAF Curtain on line, I want a Kestrel up and ingressing to the target area of the new contact, let’s designate him as Sierra 1, I want the status of their other birds as well and I’m not seeing their Base ready status on the board” the major said as he blew out an exasperated lungful of air before continuing.
“, Somebody has fucked up and it needs fixing now, let’s move people!” Said Mark in an almost shooting voice as he continued to stare at the now animated control room staff.