Scheduling shift comes as Asia-Pacific nations consider plans for Global Hawk ‘pool’

The Australian government is to consider proposals in the next three months for initial funding of its Project Air 7000 Phase 1 high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) multi-mission maritime unmanned air vehicle requirement. The initial funding approval has been brought forward by at least a year from previously declared plans for the project.

Australia last month hosted a Pacific Air Force demonstration of a prototype Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk deployment over east Asia, with loiter time over Japan and Singapore. The UAV involved – air vehicle 3 – was the same RQ-4A that has been operating from the Al Adeid air base in Qatar since late 2001 and racked up 4,800 combat flight hours in support of US operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the horn of Africa.

The UAV left Qatar on 10 February and arrived at the Royal Australian Air Force’s Edinburgh base north of Adelaide the following day. The east Asian demonstration occurred between 13-18 February before the air vehicle returned to Edwards AFB, California on 20 February.

RAAF Edinburgh supports one of only two US Air Force-funded RQ-4 support centres outside the USA. It has hosted at least 10 Global Hawk transits between the USA and Qatar since 2001, including deployment of two USAF RQ-4A production UAVs, the first of which passed through Australia on 12 January.

The scheduling shift for the Air 7000 Phase 1 requirement comes as Australia, Japan and Singapore consider proposals by the USAF’s Pacific Command for a common regional “pool” of Global Hawks, based in Guam. The proposal includes options for a commonly funded air vehicle fleet, which would be shared between the countries, along with Thailand and the USA, and operated in a similar way to NATO’s E-3 AWACS fleet. Alternately, nations could acquire their own aircraft and make them available to the common fleet as a regional security asset.

Australia’s requirement is expected to be competed between the RQ-4B Global Hawk and the Mariner derivative of General Atomics MQ-9 Predator B. Aerovironment last month announced it was also attempting to enter the competition with a military version of its Global Observer (Flight International, 14-20 February).

Australia will conduct a trial of the Mariner in August and September as part of its evaluation process. The demonstration will also be used to support decisions on the possible introduction of UAVs for civil maritime surveillance.

The Australian government last week signed a A$1 billion ($740 million) Civil Maritime Surveillance 04 contract with National Air Support subsidiary Surveillance Australia, which was selected as preferred tenderer last year. The contract will run from 2008 until 2020.

Additional reporting by

Source: Flight International