Advanced Ceramics, Aerovironment and Rafael have carried out a series of small UAV demonstration flights for the Australian and New Zealand defence forces as both countries prepare formal plans for fleet acquisitions.
The New Zealand Army is expected to launch a competition during 2007, with Australian plans likely to take another 24 and 36 months to reach tender release.
The industry demonstration programme was initiated by the Canberra-based Codarra Systems company, which represents Advanced Ceramics and Rafael's UAV business in Australia.
The New Zealand demonstrations, involving Advanced Ceramics Silver Fox and Rafael Skylite B, were held at a military range 17-18 October and were observed by the New Zealand Ministry of Defence's intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance programme acquisition office.
The demonstrations included flights in high wind conditions. The head of Rafael's Skylite B development team, Dr Zeev Berman, told the Australian Army's Land Warfare Conference in Brisbane 27 October that "ten days ago we made a presentation in New Zealand. There were something like 35kt of steady winds with gusts of 55kt and we were in the air and we completed the mission".
The same two UAVs were joined by Aerovironment's RQ-11B Raven and Wasp systems for the Australian demonstrations, which occurred at Esk River, northwest of Brisbane, on 23-24 October.
A series of practice flights were held on the first day, with formal demonstrations on day two. The flights were observed by personnel from the Australian Army, Special Forces, the Australian Defence Force capability development division and the Australian Defence Material Organisation.
The Australian demonstrations were partially sponsored by the US Navy's air systems command with personnel from the US Special Operations Command also attending.
The Esk demonstrations were carried out under the Australian Civil Aviation Authorities regulations for UAV operations.
All four UAV types successfully flew on both days during the Esk flights, however the Silver Fox aircraft was entangled in a fence during landing.
Prior to that incident, Silver Fox and Skylite B demonstrated combined operations with the Advanced Ceramics UAV used to carry out area reconnaissance and the Rafael aircraft used in a low altitude, detailed contact investigation role.
Aerovironment is to this month follow up the Esk flights with a two week demonstration of its Aqua Puma small UAV for the Royal Australian Navy under an AUD$164,404 contract awarded 8 September.
Those flights will be conducted from the back of an RAN Armidale class patrol boat operating out of the northern city of Darwin. The flights had been planned to be carried out during September but were delayed after the Armidale class, which is still being transitioned into service, were temporarily suspended from operations after problems were found with the boats’ fuel supply system.Aerovironment first proposed a patrol boat demonstration to the RAN in February this year. The company is represented in Australia by the Canberra based Xtek Pty Ltd.