Australian Screen

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Submariners (2005)

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clip Acoustic warfare education content clip 1, 2

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

HMAS Rankin is taking part in Silent Fury, an exercise with the US Navy. The submarine must avoid detection and make it past 'enemy’ ships and helicopters to be victorious. Acoustic warfare specialists explain how they won the exercise.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows the Australian submarine HMAS Rankin as it takes part in a naval exercise with the US Navy off the coast of Hawaii. The captain, Steve Hussey, plans and executes a strategy to elude detection by the US fleet. This involves initially encouraging his crew to 'make a bit of noise’ so that the US ships will become accustomed to a high level of sonar 'noise’. This is followed by a period of silence in which they hope to evade detection. The plan appears to work. The clip includes music, narration and interviews with crew members.

Educational value points

  • Sonar is commonly used by ships and submarines to detect underwater obstacles and search for other vessels, and by fishers searching for schools of fish. There are two types of sonar – passive sonar is a listening device, an acoustic receiver that emits no sound but listens for and analyses the sounds of other vessels, while active sonar sends out a pulse of sound into the water and locates objects by timing the returned 'echo’ of the sound pulse. Sonar reception depends on water temperature, other activity in the area and the weather on the surface but it is possible to detect noisy vessels more than 100 km away.
  • Silent Fury, the exercise depicted in the clip, was part of the multinational maritime warfare exercise RIMPAC 04, carried out in July 2004. It was the nineteenth in a series of RIMPAC (rim of the Pacific) exercises that have been conducted since 1971. RIMPAC 04 involved seven nations, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the USA and the UK, practising their warfare and communication skills. The RIMPAC exercises involved training in tactical proficiency, non-combatant evacuation operations, antisubmarine warfare and humanitarian assistance.
  • During the RIMPAC activities in July 2004, between 150 and 200 melon-headed whales were stranded in nearby Hanalei Bay on Hawaii. Investigations by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Navy suggested that the active sonar transmissions from the RIMPAC activities did at least contribute to the mass stranding. Scientific knowledge of the effects of sonar on marine animals is rudimentary, although NOAA laboratory data indicates that sonar systems are audible to many marine animals and may affect their behavioural and physiological responses.
  • The clip shows the crew of HMAS Rankin involved in naval exercises with the US Navy, in a military activity operating under the security treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the USA (ANZUS). The ANZUS treaty was signed on 1 September 1951 and bound the participating countries to recognise that an armed attack in the Pacific or on any one of them would endanger the peace and safety of the others, to consult with each other in the event of a threat and to maintain and develop individual and collective capabilities to resist attack.
  • Australia is only the second country in the world after Norway to allow women, such as the sonar operator seen in the clip, to serve on submarines. A 1996 Australian Defence Force (ADF) report examining the cultural, social and institutional barriers to women’s careers in the ADF recommended a more strategic and systemic approach to eliminate sex-based discrimination. Within the Australian armed forces, women are now allowed to work in support (non-combat) roles in battle zones.
  • The filmmaker has used a variety of techniques to engage the viewer. The use of a hand-held camera allows the audience into the confined conditions of the submarine, and these shots contrast with the outdoor shots of the US frigates and helicopters, and of the submarine gliding through the water. A voice-over narration, the voice of the captain reading from his diary of the event, various crew members describing events as they unfold, rain-like sounds from outside the submarine, and music all add to the sense of an unfolding drama.
  • The Submariners series was devised to give insight into life on board an Australian submarine deployed overseas and this clip displays the cramped, noisy and claustrophobic conditions of submarine life. Series director Hugh Piper found the crew of HMAS Rankin to be a tightly knit group, interdependent and highly skilled.
  • Hugh Piper has also made A Case for the Coroner, a six-part series for the ABC about the workings of the Coroner’s Court, and The Post, about the reporters on Cambodia’s English-language newspaper the Phnom Penh Post.

Footage shows the submarine and the American boats and aircraft.
Narrator As Rankin approaches Hawaii, she readies herself for her first major exercise with the American navy. The Americans have christened the exercise Silent Fury. They have two destroyers and two frigates, a nuclear submarine and a search aircraft dedicated to finding Rankin. Rankin’s mission is to elude detection and pass through a chokepoint, a channel between two islands and then photograph one of the American destroyers. To achieve this, the captain has a cunning plan.

The cook is in the submarine’s kitchen, preparing for the exercise.
Filmmaker (off-screen) Are you being a noisy bastard?
Michael Rush, cook Yes, I am. See?
Michael kicks the steel grate under his foot and laughs.
Michael They’re not going to know what hit them.
Narrator-Filmmaker The captain wants the Americans to become accustomed to a high noise level, as might be expected from a boatload of Australians.

Commanding officer Steve Hussey addresses the crew.
Commanding officer Steve Hussey Rushie is enjoying jumping off the third rung of the ladder… and bouncing off the DSS deck. However, I would encourage people to actually take it seriously and make a little bit of noise.

The filmmaker and the cook are in the kitchen.
Michael For two days I’m not going to love it, though.
Filmmaker So what’s happening in two days.
Michael Then we’ve got to go quiet.
Filmmaker Yeah?
Michael Yeah, we go quiet so they can’t hear us at all. Try and confuse them.

In the control room crew work on eluding the Americans. In voice-over Steve reads from his diary.
Steve Hussey June the seventh, 2000 hours. Silent Fury has started. For the last 48 hours we have been making quite a racket but we are now in our quieter state, travelling at slow speed along the coast, using the ambient and shore noise to mask our presence.

Narrator The Americans were supposed to turn off their sonar to give Rankin an opportunity to slip away. But it seems they’ve dropped that part of the plan.

The filmmaker is talking to various members of the crew.
Steve Carter, navigating officer Right from the word go they were trailing us, even from when the chokepoint started. They are actually shepherding us down the corridor and the other unit’s already waiting down here anyway so it’s made it extremely difficult for us. It’s a bit unrealistic, in terms of a real scenario.
Officer The red ones are the vessels that we’re playing the games with and they’re the possibly hostile units so they’re the ones that are looking for us and obviously they’re hostile because they’re looking for us.
Filmmaker So there are one, two, three, four hostile ships out there and a yellow one?
Officer Yep.
Steve Carter Chokepoint being between these two islands so our aim, basically, is to position ourselves off the north-west of Niihau and mask ourselves a little bit with the shore here so it gives ourselves some sonar cover and make it harder for them to detect us through this direction.

Narrator Passive sonar is simply listening to what’s out there. Up to now, Rankin has been lying low by keeping her noise level below that already present in the water from undersea activity.

Filmmaker You can hear the waves crashing?
Peter 'Jimmy’ Durrant, acoustic warfare analyst Well, you can hear noise, yeah. Not so much waves crashing but you can hear a constant sound like, I suppose, rain.

Narrator The plan seems to be working. Sonar has detected that they’ve eluded the nuclear submarine.

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