The Royal Australian Navy’s Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight has conducted its final sortie after 26 years of outstanding service.
LADS Flight is a unit of the Navy that operates a modified Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft equipped with a Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS), developed by the Australian Department of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO, now DST), for surveying the Australian coastline from the air.
This capability was developed in South Australia and since 1993 has been providing the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Government survey data for complex coastal and reef waters that are dangerous or difficult to survey by traditional ship-based methods.
Unlike the rest of the flying units of the RAN, LADS Flight is not controlled by the Fleet Air Arm from HMAS Albatross but instead falls under the operational control of the Australian Hydrographic Service at HMAS Cairns in the far north of Queensland.
Commanding Officer LADS Flight, Lieutenant Commander Mark Matthews said LADS has likely prevented numerous groundings on what would have otherwise been unchartered dangers.
“LADS is an incredible capability that allows us to survey more than 20 square nautical miles an hour in places that are not suitable or practical for hydrographic ships,” Lieutenant Commander Matthews said.
“For the last three years, LADS’ primary mission has been to survey the Great Barrier Reef and other offshore coral reefs and atolls across northern Australia, resulting in major improvements in the charting of these areas. Over its life, LADS has charted vast areas of the Australian coast and has deployed to the Cocos Keeling Islands, the sub-Antarctic, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand collecting hydrographic data to improve the safety for all shipping.”
In total, the LADS Flight has flown more than 3000 sorties, conducted 186 surveys and covered an area of more than 50,000 square kilometers.
The LADS Flight is a joint operation between the Australian Hydrographic Service and the Fugro LADS Corporation, part of Fugro a Dutch corporation, which also runs hydrographic operations for the private sector. The aircraft itself is owned by the Fugro LADS Corporation, which also provides the flight crews and system maintenance technicians. Aircraft engineers come from the civilian contractor, Cobham Aviation Services Australia, while the hydrographic specialists are serving members of the RAN.
The flight is stationed at Cairns but can be deployed to other locations for up to three months at a time; the aircraft has an operational endurance of up to seven hours for operations close to its base, reducing to four hours on station at a distance of up to 300 nautical miles.
Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead paid tribute to the more than 180 Navy personnel who have served in the LADS team and the many contractors who delivered services in support of the LADS Flight.
“I am proud of the extraordinary work the LADS Flight has achieved and thank everyone involved over the years,” Rear Admiral Mead said. “It is a sad occasion to see the end of service of a Navy Unit but it is an opportunity to reflect on an excellent job, Bravo Zulu LADS Flight.”
In line with the Defence White Paper 2016, the current hydrographic capabilities of the Navy will be replaced by commercial hydrographic companies through the HydroScheme Industry Partnership Program (HIPP).