Page 46 - Australian Defence Magazine - June 2018
P. 46

AIR 7003
Air 7003:
The Reaper is the firm RAAF favourite, but will it carry the day?
The road towards
an armed UAV
Over recent years, the
ADF has gained plenty
of experience of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) even though they aren’t in the ADF inventory.
IN Afghanistan, Australian troops in contact with insurgents called in close air support, with weapons delivered by what- ever platforms were available, which could have been US or UK Predator/Reaper se- ries UAVs.
In more recent fighting against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, Australian personnel at the Coalition Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Qatar, facilitated air strikes by coalition manned aircraft, including RAAF Super and Classic Hornets, as well as UAVs.
And in 2015, a group of five RAAF per- sonnel began training as MQ-9 Reaper pilots and mission systems operators at Holloman US Air Force Base, New Mexico, and at Creech US Air Force Base in Nevada in the US.
Australian personnel subsequently flew US aircraft on actual missions over the Middle East. This familiarisation training started before the ADF actually had a stated requirement for an armed UAV.
That came in the 2016 Defence White Paper which spelled out a specific need for medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft to provide enhanced fire- power for Australian and coalition forces, plus intelligence, surveillance and reconnais- sance (ISR) support to a range of missions including counter-terrorism.
These aircraft will also augment sur- veillance capability for search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and coastal surveillance.
The Defence Integrated Investment Program cites a procurement timeline of 2018-38 and a cost of $1-2 billion.
That indicates action soon, although Defence isn’t indicating how it will proceed. “Capability planning for Air 7003 is ongo- ing and encompasses a range of options for Government consideration. No decision regarding the acquisition strategy has been
made,” a defence spokesman said in response to a series of questions from ADM.
So far there appear to be just two contenders, US firm General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) with its well-known Predator and Reaper family of UAVs and Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) with the Heron TP, big brother of the Heron 1, operated by the RAAF in Afghanistan and only retired last year.
Both are proven platforms, in service and with thousands of operational hours.
With no clear requirements for Air 7003, GA-ASI is offering a pair of Reaper variants. The MQ-9 Block 5 Reaper, operated by the US Air Force, is available now, subject to US
government approval.
But the preferred offering is the MQ-9B
SkyGuardian, the latest variant, set to be delivered to its launch customer, the UK Ministry of Defence through the PROTECTOR program in the early 2020s.
Warren Ludwig, GA-ASI’s Director for International Strategic Development for Australia, NZ and Southeast Asia and a former RAAF Air Vice Marshal, says their analysis indicates the ADF could need 12-16
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