Australia opens talks with USA to join BAMS UAV project

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Australia is to slow its planned project Air 7000 multi-mission unmanned aerial system acquisition and seek to link its requirement with the US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) programme, writes Peter La Franchi.

The national security committee of the Australian cabinet last month approved the launch of negotiations with the US Navy on joining BAMS. Australian defence minister Brendan Nelson says a final decision on whether to proceed will be made in late 2007.

The decision effectively delays the proposed introduction into service of the Australian system until at least 2012-13, with the US BAMS schedule not expected to see development aircraft flights before fiscal year 2011, while initial operational capability is targeted for FY13.

Australia's revised 10-year defence capability plan released last month had targeted a service entry between 2009 and 2011. Canberra has held observer status on the BAMS programme for at least three years.

The US Navy released a draft performance-based specification for BAMS to potential project bidders on 26 July. This specification is to be followed by the release of a draft request for proposals (RFP) for the system development and demonstration phase in October and formal RFP in January.

Companies expected to bid for the US requirement include Aerovironment, Aurora Flight Sciences, Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

Nelson says the BAMS linkage "may provide significant global supply opportunities for Australian industry".