Australia weighs tactical options after I-View UAV cancellation

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Australia is looking at new options to meet the army’s tactical unmanned air vehicle (TUAV) requirement after terminating a contract with Boeing Australia today for the Israel Aerospace Industries’ I-View 250.

Prime contractor Boeing Australia and partner IAI won the contract to supply the Australian army with the I-View 250 TUAV system under Joint Project 129 in late 2006.

 
© Israel Aerospace Industries

The contract was supposed to result in the delivery of two TUAV systems, comprising four modified I-View 250s (above) and ground stations plus a further four spare UAVs by late 2009. However, the programme is running over two years late, resulting in it being added to the government’s defence “projects of concern” list earlier this year.

Boeing Australia had been given until the end of June to come up with a revised schedule to take the programme forward, but last week the government said that with an “imperative to field a TUAV capability as soon as possible” and “a number of lower risk alternative systems” being available, the Defence Materiel Organisation and Boeing Australia agreed to terminate the contract on “mutually acceptable terms”. Boeing Australia will refund the government the A$6 million that it has paid to date under the contract.

The government says that Boeing Australia and its subcontractors “have experienced a range of technical issues making it increasingly difficult to deliver the full scope of the contract within a timeframe acceptable to Defence”. Earlier this year the DoD was critical of Boeing Australia, which was responsible for project management, systems engineering and in-service support, telling Flight International that the company had failed to appreciate the “developmental status of the I-View 250 or the effort needed to adapt it to meet Australian Army requirements”.

The project is believed to have resulted in friction between Boeing Australia and IAI, with the Israeli company having also voiced concerns over the prime’s project management.

An IAI source says the relationship between the two companies had reached a “very tense point” prior to the cancellation, but added that the Israeli company had worked to “fulfill all its obligations to the customer”.

The government says it will focus on the “earliest acquisition” of an alternative system to meet the JP129 requirement. The army currently uses the Boeing Scan Eagle UAV in the Middle East.

Australia also earlier this year scrapped its troubled A$950 million ($818 million) procurement of 11 Kaman SH-2G(A) Super Seasprite helicopters, with the project having fallen seven years behind schedule.

Additional reporting by Arie Egozi in Tel Aviv