Australia to upgrade intelligence gathering pair

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PETER LA FRANCHI / ADELAIDE

The Australian government has approved funding for a partial upgrade of the communications intelligence (COMINT) systems aboard the Royal Australian Air Force's two classified Project Peacemate electronic intelligence (ELINT)gathering aircraft. The funding is contained within a A$150 million ($118 million)authorisation for the expansion of Australia's Project Bunyip COMINT project.

Australia's Peacemate capability comprises one Lockheed MartinC-130H fitted out with COMINT and ELINT sensors during the late 1990s by Tenix Defence Systems and one Lockheed EP-3C Orion converted to the Aries II configuration under a deal with the US Navy in the early 1990s. The aircraft are operated as national intelligence assets, with crewing provided by the RAAF and the Australian Defence Signals Directorate.

The Australian government has never officially confirmed the existence of the two aircraft. However, Australian defence minister Robert Hill alluded to the Peacemate aircraft in a 12 February statement, noting: "The air force and navy will receive equipment for their major aircraft and ships that is capable of intercepting signals from a range of threat systems. These new systems will enhance or replace existing ADF [Australian Defence Force] capabilities and will extend the reach of the ADF's electronic warfare capabilities."

The RAAFs only other airborne signals intelligence capability comprises modified Elta ALR-2001 electronic support-measures systems carried by its 17 AP-3C Orion maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft. Hill's statement indicates that the bulk of Bunyip funding will be directed towards deployable ground-based COMINT systems.