Australia Rushes AIR 7000 HALE UAV Project, Considers Multi-National Global Hawk Pacific “Pool”
Flight International reports that the Australian government has moved up its schedule by a year, and will consider proposals in the next three months for initial funding of its Project Air 7000 Phase 1 multi-mission maritime HALE (high-altitude, long-endurance) UAV program. The hurry-up appears to have been triggered by US proposals to create a common regional “pool” of Global Hawks based in Guam. The proposal before Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand includes options for a shared and commonly funded fleet operated much like NATO’s E-3 Sentry AWACS, or option B in which countries acquire their own Global Hawks and make them available to the common regional fleet on agreed terms.
Still, the Global Hawk will have competition…
As Australia’s 2006-2106 Defence Capability Plan notes:
“AIR 7000 will…include the exploration of a broad range of options including aircraft refurbishment/remanufacture or replacement, and the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) as an adjunct to manned platforms. While the project will be focused on the acquisition of a capability centred on maritime patrol and response roles, it will also support electronic electronic and land surveillance roles.”
As DID has noted before, the Australian Defence Forces are expected to choose between the larger RQ-4B Global Hawk and General Atomics’ Mariner derivative of its MQ-9 Predator B. The Mariner will be also trialed in August-September 2006, with an eye to introducing it as part of Australia’s innovative public-private Coastwatch partnership that serves as the equivalent of its Coast Guard and border patrol.
Past DID articles offer in-depth coverage of the Coastwatch program structure, and of the recent A$ 1 billion 12-year award and accompanying plane purchase. This latter article also contains more links to news re: the North West Shelf UAV trial.
There may also be a third contender.
According to Flight International, Aerovironment announced it was also attempting to enter the AIR 7000 competition with a military version of its Global Observer. The HALE Global Observer UAV runs on hydrogen fuel cells, has a loiter time of up to 7 days, and can also be used as a broadband communications relay.
Still, the Global Hawk does have a strong edge. RAAF base Edinburgh (north of Adelaide) is one of only two USAF-funded RQ-4 Global Hawk support centers outside the USA. In a recent demonstration, a Global Hawk took off from Al Adeid in Qatar, landed in Edinburgh, then conducted a flight over east Asia that lasted a couple of days, with loiter time over Japan and Singapore.
July 20/07: Australia grants first pass approval for the P-8A to be chosen for Phase 2 of its AIR 7000 program, which is the manned aircraft portion. Phase 2 is currently estimated at A$ 4 billion, and first pass approval allows Australia’s Department of Defence to commence formal negotiations with the United States Navy join the P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) program as a partner. Australian DoD release.
September 2006: Australia to Participate in BAMS UAV Project? The government gives first Pass Approval to AIR 7000, Phase 1. A final decision and contract is expected by the end of 2007.
They would initially join BAMS, but a new government pulled out of the project in 2009. They will still buy 7 high-altitude, long-range UAVs for the role, via an international competition.