Australia has admitted for the first time that it is using Aerosonde unmanned air vehicles to support experiments with lightweight deceptive jamming payloads developed by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

The experiments are part of a three-year, A$2.4 million ($1.32million) programme known as Project Avatar - Autonomous Vehicle Advanced Tactical Applications Research.

Avatar is also testing Australian radio repeater and video surveillance payloads. The existence of the programme was confirmed by defence minister Robert Hill earlier this month.

Acknowledgement of the programme comes after the Australian Stock Exchange delisted Aerosonde last month when the company failed to pay membership fees. Aerosonde is the subject of a takeover by a group of former directors of Saab Systems Australia, which was a major shareholder in the listed company.

Hill launched Avatar in May this year to support Aerosonde after it reported major debts and limited revenue.

DSTO backed the programme as a means of providing its researchers with access to production UAVs for the trial of a variety of surveillance and intelligence gathering concepts. Avatar funding is capped at A$500,000 for the Australian financial year.

The Australian government is planning to release a new strategic review by the end of November. The final drafts of the review, which include an update of Australian Defence Force capability development plans, are to be passed to the Australian Cabinet office this week. Hill says the draft has been updated to take account of the Kuta Beach terrorist bombings in Bali on 12 October.

Source: Flight International