No Love From The Royal Australian Navy
Be forewarned. This is the driest, most “essentially non-UFO” blog post I have yet published. If anyone wants thrilling tales of pilots being dragged off by formations of glittering unknown objects they will have to close this and pick up Keith Chester’s “Strange Company” or something. For the few who want to risk sticking with me, let me sum up something I have being banging on about for nearly a year: The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Surveillance and Response Group, or rather, its subordinate Wings, are tasked with the surveillance and monitoring of our country’s vast aerospace environment. RAAF assets track and identify both known and unknown aircraft, and other airborne bodies, plus provide the wider Australian Defence Force’s a true and timely aerospace picture of what is flying above and around the continent. An unknown or unidentifiable track is titled, at least within the 41 Wing, as a “Contact of Interest”. My work on this matter can be appraised here:
But what about the Royal Australian Navy? A modern Navy has just the sort of aerial detection and plotting capability as its equivalent Air Force. What a state of affairs we would be in if our Navy sailed blind while our Air Force was able to pick up and near-continuously plot small planes two thousand kilometres away (which they can) using a world-leading over-the-horizon radar system? So, if the RAAF sometimes picks up “Contacts of Interest”, what does the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) manage to do? For example, our Anzac class frigates have an entire “suite” of radar systems that produce a variety of combined three-dimensional imaging that facilitate hostile aircraft tracking, theatre-wide battle management, etc. The two systems of interest to us are the Raytheon SPS-49[V]8 ANZ for sensitive aerial search and long-range surveillance, and, the CelsiusTech 9LV-453 TIR Radar for general, especially mid-range, aerial scanning. So with all this fool-proof ability to monitor the skies, one would assume that the odd UFO – whatever UFO means exactly – could and should be detected.
On the 17 September, 2015 I submitted the following FOI request to the Department of Defence’s Freedom of Information (FOI) desk:
“I wish to obtain a list or index of any operational Standing Instructions, Standing Orders, Manuals, Directives, or any publications, maintained by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) which relate to the detection, tracking and identification of known or unknown aircraft, unidentified aircraft, hostile aircraft, hijacked aircraft, unlawfully operating aircraft, and matters related generally to air and aerospace surveillance, monitoring and sovereignty.”
Some of you may wonder why I would want to merely get an index, which is basically a list, of a whole lot of our Navy’s paperwork. Why wouldn’t I go straight for the good stuff? Well, it doesn’t work that way. A person requesting information from a government agency must be quite specific. In the case I am highlighting here, all I want to do is get a list of Navy publications that may have words like “unknown contact” or “suspect track” or whatever in the title. It would be then that I would ask, again under the FOI Act, for the publications themselves to be released. And that would be when things get interesting. The world’s greatest UFO-document FOI user and abuser, Robert Todd, now sadly not with us, used to do this all the time. And the volume of material that he was able to identify from such lists of military publications is quite impressive. Anyway, back came an answer to my FOI request on the 21st of September. In part it stated:
“A preliminary assessment of charges was sought from the departmental area which would be responsible for the processing of your request. However, in response to their own preliminary inquiries they do not consider your request is valid in its current form, essentially because there is no ‘list or index’ which covers all of the requested information.
The type of information requested is spread across a large range of publications including classified Allied publications. Given the types of operating environment for our ships, there is no simple short list of instructions like that cited for the RAAF. The request is so broad as to encompass a wide spectrum of operations from basic training of our people to highly complex and classified instructions issued to cover specific Operations and Exercises.
For example, the Anti-Air Warfare Procedures chapter of one of Navy’s Maritime tactical publications is highly classified and is 334 pages. While not all of the chapter is relevant to your request, it would be a considerable cost to you for the Department to review the entire content, and then it is unlikely that much information would be released.
To produce a ‘list or index’, the Department would need to construct a document which is outside of the scope of the FOI Act as described in para 2.29 of the Guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner under s 93A of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Oct 2014). In this case, the expected decision would be to refuse access under section 24A [Requests may be refused if documents cannot be found, do not exist or have not been received] of the FOI Act, as the requested ‘list or index’ does not exist.
In view of the above, you are invited to consider, whether your request may be refined to more specified terms.”
So, the RAN are basically saying that, unlike the RAAF, there are no concise, short list of publications – Standing Orders, Instructions, Directives, etc – that would satisfy my request. Furthermore, they are saying that the situation with operational and tactical RAN publications is so complex that no list would be even creatable or manageable. I found, and continue to find, that claim a bit hard to believe; however, I have it on good authority from a serving member of our Australian Defence Forces – who never lets me down – that the Navy’s procedural paperwork is a full order of magnitude more complicated than the RAAF’s or the Army’s. So, this time the benefit of the doubt goes their way, but that doesn’t get them off the hook as far as me reducing the scope of my FOI request and raising the bar somewhat.
On the 4th of October I replied to Defence FOI and stated that I wanted the same type of material, but this time only for the Anzac class frigate. In other words, I want a list of enforceable RAN publications that relate to unknown or unidentifiable aircraft or other airborne bodies, but only created for the particular systems on the Anzac ships. Simple right? Maybe not… The reply came back on the 7th of October, and, in it, the Navy stated directly to me:
“The applicant’s revised request below and his additional explanation does not significantly change his original request. As such, I consider this request remains a s24A response in that no list or index exists and to produce one would be contrary to the guidance provided by the Information Commissioner in para 2.29 of the Guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner under s 93A of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. Similarly, to provide a list of publications, as alternatively requested by the applicant, would also require the production of a document.
Additionally, there is a set of Anzac Class Standing Orders which facilitate standard procedures across the eight ships of the class. These Orders are generally unclassified and cover routine management instructions rather than the types of information requested by the applicant and they specifically do not address operational procedures.
The applicant’s requested information goes to the very core of Navy’s warfare role. Navy’s combat systems, procedures and operations are all developed around the ultimate use of warships, that being combat. As such, most warfare related material is in classified operating manuals and combat system manuals. Further, a great deal of this material is generated through classified Allied publications which are imperative to enabling our ships, submarines and aircraft to readily interact and operate with other Allied forces. RAN warships are not like RAAF Air Traffic Control and other fixed installations which predominantly operate in a civil type regime; our ships operate in warfare regimes which are occasionally used in non-warfare roles such as Humanitarian Assistance and/or Disaster Relief.
Detection and Tracking of contacts: This part of the request essentially asks how we get to the identification of contacts/targets with Anzac Class ships. The Australian publications which cover system descriptions and use of the Anzac Class combat system are principally divided into 12 Volumes/Parts. I have sampled four (33%) of these and they are 612, 758, 838 and 1148 pages, resulting in an average of 840 pages per Volume/Part or a total or approximately 10,080 total pages. While naturally not all of the information will be relevant to the applicant’s request, it would be a considerable body of work, and probably a s24AA diversion of resources, just to review the documents to ascertain which content which might be relevant to the request. These publications are all classified, and even if within the scope of the FOI request, would very likely be heavily redacted to the point where any released information would be meaningless.
Identification of contacts: At its core, Air Warfare Identification Criteria is contained in a small section (11 pages) of a Combined Exercise Agreement which carries a NATO security classification which would essentially prevent its release under FOI. This core ID Criteria is then distilled into other Australian warfare publications which describe how these criteria are applied in our operating environment and systems. My previous advice regarding the content of RAN Maritime Tactical Instructions remains valid, in that the Anti-Air Warfare section is 343 pages. 45 pages of this section directly relate to Anzac Class operations and some other pages are indirectly relevant. Again, this is a highly classified document.”
Below this RAN response, the FOI desk officer finished the correspondence with this:
“In view of the above, you are again invited to consider whether your request may be refined in more specific terms. The department is only obliged to assist an applicant once to frame a suitable application under the FOI Act. However, in order to assist you we are prepared to extend this obligation.
Your request will be classified as ‘Pending’ until such time as your reply is received. However, if we do not receive any further contact from you by 12 October 2015, we will consider your request has having been withdrawn. Notwithstanding, you are welcome to submit a fresh application after that date.”
So.. That is what we are up to. I do not usually post my research endeavours until they are wrapped up. This one however will probably go nowhere. It’s not worth the fight sometimes. Having said that, I am not quite through with them yet. Stay tuned.