THE AUSTRALIAN Defence Forces is pulling together its broad-area aerial-surveillance and unmanned-air-vehicle (UAV) requirements into a single project, known as Joint 129.

The project, established at the end of April, will result in the acquisition of either a combination of manned surveillance aircraft, supporting a synthetic-aperture-radar system, and tactical UAVs, fitted with electro-optical payloads; or an advanced UAV system, such as the General Atomics Predator, fulfilling both missions.

A request for tender for the project is expected to be approved for release in the second half of 1997. The go-ahead for an acquisition programme is expected in August from the Defence Force Structure Policy and Programs Committee, and Government budgetary approvals for the Australian fiscal year 1997-8.

The Joint 129 project brings together elements of two previously separate Australian Army programmes. The broad-area aerial-surveillance requirement was formerly linked with Air 87, the replacement programme for the Australian Army's Kiowa-class helicopters, while the UAV requirement was tied up with the Army's Project Ninox, the purchase of a range of battlefield-surveillance sensor systems.

International interest in the JP129 project is already developing, with Swiss-based Pilatus Aircraft briefing Australian Defence personnel early in May on the capabilities of the PC-12 Eagle.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems briefed senior Australian Army officials on the capabilities of the Predator system late in 1995. South African firm Kentron is expected to compete, with its Seeker UAV, while Israel Aircraft Industries' Malat unit is also expected to enter the contest.

Source: Flight International