Australia to Participate in BAMS UAV Project?
In March 2006, DID reported that Australia was speeding up its planned AIR 7000 project for a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV, and considering a US offer to be part of a pacific “pool” of Global Hawks. We’ve also covered Australia’s Coastwatch program. They will soon use the Mariner UAV for long-range maritime patrol, and will also be part of the USA’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program for a companion UAV to the new 737-based P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft.
Now, all of these projects are potentially coming together…
With respect to the UAVs in contention, Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk is currently in use as a maritime UAV demonstrator. The Australian Defence Materiel Organisation has also issued an $A 4.7 million (USD $3.5 million) to conduct an October 2006 virtual Global Hawk demonstration trial for North West shelf patrols in the company’s Cyber Warfare Integration Network (CWIN) in San Diego, CA.
The General Atomics Mariner UAV (derived from the MQ-9 Predator B) is also a candidate for BAMS; as noted above, it will be trialed in live operation for Australia’s Coastwatch during August & September 2006.
Finally, Aerovironment is also attempting to enter the AIR 7000 competition with a military version of its Global Observer UAV. The HALE Global Observer UAV runs on hydrogen fuel cells, has a loiter time of up to 7 days, and can also be used as a broadband communications relay.
The introduction of the MUAS will reduce the operational burden on Air Force’s AP-3C Orion maritime patrol fleet until the aircraft’s planned withdrawal from service around 2015 – 2018. Under Project AIR 7000 the existing manned maritime patrol capability will be replaced with a mix of both unmanned and manned aircraft, and Phase 2 of AIR 7000 will focus on determining whether to refurbish or replace the AP-3C Orion fleet. Note that in addition to BAMS, Australia is also a potential participant in the P-8A MMA program.
July 20/07: Australia grants first pass approval for the P-8A to be chosen for Phase 2 of its AIR 7000 program, which is the manned aircraft portion. Phase 2 is currently estimated at A$ 4 billion, and first pass approval allows Australia’s Department of Defence to commence formal negotiations with the United States Navy to join the P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) program. Australian DoD release.
July 28/06: The Australian government has given first pass approval to AIR 7000 Phase 1, under which Australia will spend A$ 1.0-1.5 billion to develop a “multi-mission unmanned aerial system.” Formal negotiations will begin with the USA on a cooperative development program linked to BAMS, and a decision is expected by late 2007. Australian industry participation will be a key factor, especially with respect to the Integrated Ground Environment for UAV control and fusion of sensor information.