Steber International – Sovereign capability in Marine Mine Countermeasures

Bluefin 9 autonomous underwater vehicle onboard the Mine Counter Measure Support Boat at HMAS Waterhen in Sydney, New South Wales. Courtesy of Royal Australian Navy Photographer: LSIS Daniel Goodman.

Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia Inc

Australia’s vast maritime expanse ranks as the world’s third-largest marine jurisdiction, covering nearly 14 million square kilometres. The country’s unique marine environment, characterised by warm, shallow waters, coupled with its economic reliance on seaborn trade, necessitates a robust system to ensure the safety and continuous flow of these sea routes. Mines, both from historical conflicts and modern digital types with low target strengths, pose a significant challenge, making them difficult to detect.

Vessels with a fibreglass hull offer distinct advantages in mine countermeasure missions. Fibreglass’s non-magnetic nature diminishes the risk of triggering magnetic mines, which are sensitive to magnetic fields emanating from metal ship hulls. Additionally, the use of fibreglass hulls can contribute to the reduction of the vessel’s acoustic signature, a critical aspect as some mines react to sound.

“In the complex world of mine countermeasures, the choice of materials is paramount. Fibreglass, with its non-magnetic properties, durability, design flexibility, and resistance to corrosion, stands out as the preferred option. It equips our boats to tackle the intricate challenges of MMCM operations effectively,” stated Alan Steber, Managing Director of Steber International.

Steber International, located in Taree, NSW, is known for its design and construction of high quality boats suitable for a variety of purposes. These commercial motor vessels, which range from 8.5 metre (28’) to 15.8 metre (52’) serve diverse functions including charter, commercial fishing, patrol, shark meshing, sea rescue, support, surveillance and recreational activities.

With an eye on future naval advancements, there's a growing emphasis on unmanned and autonomous components. The RAN and DST Group spearhead research and operational testing of these cutting-edge technologies that promise to redefine maritime operations.

The Steber 3800 stands as a testament to the company’s capability to tailor vessels for specific operational requirements. This particular vessel has integrated into the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) countermeasure toolkit, emphasising its significance in maritime operations, often utilising the Steber hull in custom configurations to support scientific research and hydrography.

Under the Sea 1778 Phase 1 (Deployable MMCM) initiative, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) procured five 3800 Steber fibreglass support vessels. Three of these were recently commissioned by the RAN for mine countermeasure activities. Notably, two vessels among these purchases were configured as unmanned surface vessels (USVs). While the specifics of deployment remain classified, the vessel’s capacity to operate from larger ships and conduct sweeping operations in harbours, both within Australia and overseas, is of national importance.

“Since Steber’s inception in 1946, we have upheld a commitment to training and preparing the future marine craftsmen. Ten apprentices, enrolled in the Certificate III in Marine Craft Construction at NSW TAFE, were involved in the construction of our recent defence vessels,” stated Alan Steber.

The Department of Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) recently commissioned an additional vessel, the Steber 40 (40ft). This marks the 21st vessel constructed by Steber for DSTG, which plays a pivotal role in research, notably in support of the RAN’s mine countermeasures programs. The Steber 40 will serve as a multifaceted coastal trials platform, furnishing DSTG with a distinctively Australian base for assessing a broad spectrum of robotic innovations. The Defence’s historical reliance on Stebercraft vessels is evident in it’s extensive operations nationwide.