General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) has described its proposal for Australia’s armed medium‑altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) requirement. The company displayed a Reaper UAV and a complete ground control station at the Avalon Airshow last week and introduced its several Australian partners. Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)—the main rival for the Australian contract—also displayed its candidate UAV at the show, the Heron TP.
Project AIR 7003 is the name of the program to acquire the new MALE UAS. Australia’s 2016 Defense White Paper and accompanying Integrated Investment Plan (IIP) called for the procurement to “enhance battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.” It is not known how many aircraft or systems Australia is seeking, although the IIP allocated A$1-2 billion ($0.75–1.5 billion) for the project starting from 2018, with the selected UAS expected to enter Australian service in the early 2020s.
Team Reaper Australia comprises GA-ASI, Cobham, CAE Australia, Raytheon Australia and Flight Data Systems. AIN understands that the offer will be centered on General Atomics Certifiable Predator B variant of the Reaper. Cobham will offer through-life support and training while CAE, which provided a Reaper simulator for Italian Air Force, is expected to do the same for Australia. Raytheon will supply the electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera payload, and Flight Data Systems will supply the flight data recorder required by Australia.
General Atomics chief executive officer Linden Blue said that his company has “been working closely with the Australian Defence Force to understand the operational needs of AIR 7003 and [is] confident that our RPA System solution will provide mature, persistent, interoperable support to Australia’s warfighters.”
However, Shaul Shahar, executive vice president and general manager of IAI’s military aircraft group, told AIN, “The Heron TP system will fulfill and exceed Australia’s requirements for AIR 7003.” Shahar emphasized that the automation of the Heron TP, with its operator console based on a mouse and keyboard system, will reduce operator workload and fatigue. IAI is currently speaking with a number of potential Australian partner companies.
The Israeli company believes that Australia’s experience with operating the smaller Heron 1 offers it an advantage as the Heron TP and Heron 1 use the same operational concepts and systems. Australia has leased two Heron 1s for operational missions over Afghanistan to support the coalition effort, and has since used the aircraft to gain experience in using unmanned aircraft and to develop procedures for the operation of UAS in civilian-controlled airspace.
But Australian personnel have also reportedly trained on the Reaper with U.S. Air Force units and flown operational missions against the Islamic State over Iraq and Syria.