The Royal Australian Air Force has deployed a number of personnel to the USA to begin training on the US Air Force’s General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air vehicle.

Although the RAAF does not operate the UAV – nor does it appear to have a specific tender or requirement for a purchase of the type – the air force is looking to increase its understanding of “complex” UAV operations, so as to protect Australian troops in future operations.

Five personnel training to be MQ-9 air vehicle operators and payload operators deployed to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, and one communication systems engineer deployed to Creech AFB in Nevada.

“Unmanned aerial systems are an advancing technology with a proven record of providing ‘eyes in the sky’ in the Middle East region,” parliamentary secretary to the minister for defence Darren Chester said in a 23 February statement.

“It would be remiss of Australia not to continue to develop our knowledge of this technology to ensure we are able to gain the greatest benefit from unmanned aerial systems and the best protection for our troops on future operations.”

In the same week, Northrop Grumman flew the RQ-4 Global Hawk high altitude, long endurance UAV to Avalon Airport in Australia, landing on 21 February ahead of the aircraft’s upcoming showcase at the Avalon air show.

Northrop Grumman

Australia has committed to acquiring the Global Hawk-derived Triton MQ-4C subject to the successful completion of the US Navy’s development programme.

It will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, and will be capable of supporting missions of over 24 hours while covering an area of more than one million square nautical miles, the government says.

The RAAF operates the Israel Aerospace Industries Heron UAV, which is a smaller but has similar capability to the Reaper.

In October, Canberra extended the lease of two Herons that were previously operated in Afghanistan as a stopgap until the RAAF’s Tritons enter service.

The two aircraft are leased from Canadian firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, and the cost for keeping the aircraft operational in Australia for six years is some A$120 million ($93 million), Australia’s defence ministry said at the time.