Australia has reached an agreement with Boeing regarding the purchase of 29 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.
The Commonwealth government’s defence industry minister signed a deal with the US airframer on 1 March at the Avalon Airshow outside of Melbourne.
“This is an A$4.2 billion [$2.8 billion] contract that will advance the capabilities of the Australian Defence Force and in particular, the Australian Army,” says Pat Conroy, whose brief includes defence acquisitions.
Conroy describes the agreement as an “industry capability deed” that will include Australian companies in the production of the ADF’s Apaches.
General Jeremy King, head of joint aviation systems for the Australian Defence Force (ADF), says the service has signed a foreign military sales agreement with Washington – which must approve the export of defence hardware – and expects to begin receiving the Apaches in 2026.
”We are on contract with the US government for those aircraft,” King says.
The procurement makes Australia the 18th Apache customer worldwide, according to Boeing.
“Defence has worked diligently with the US Army, Boeing and local industry to ensure we are providing the best capability for the [ADF],” King says.
The Australian Army currently operates 22 of the troubled Airbus Helicopters Tiger attack rotorcraft, according to Cirium data.
The 1 March deal will also see an expanded role for Australian suppliers in the AH-64E supply chain. Five domestic companies will contribute cabling, wire harnesses and cockpit avionic components to Australia’s Apache fleet.
Canberra is seeking to expand the capability of its domestic aerospace and defence industry, including an initiative to produce precision munitions called the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise. Australian companies already supply other high-profile defence programmes, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 fifth-generation fighter.
Separately, the ADF says it will increase its acquisition of the MQ-28 Ghost Bat autonomous combat aircraft, which Canberra is developing jointly with Boeing. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will now acquire 10 of the experimental jets in total, which are being designed to team with conventional fighter aircraft.
Conroy says Australia has invested A$600 million in MQ-28 development, which features components from 55 domestic suppliers.
Boeing publicly revealed the Ghost Bat for the first time on 28 February at Avalon. The type is the first military combat aircraft to be designed, developed and manufactured in Australia in decades.
The US Air Force (USAF) is conducting its own tests with an MQ-28 testbed, along with the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie – a US-made autonomous combat airframe.
Conroy says he has had “some really productive conversations” with the USAF about the Ghost Bat, but cautions the programme’s primary focus is to develop a platform that ”fits with our priorities for the [RAAF]”.
However, he also notes Canberra is “very interested” in the prospect of exporting the MQ-28 to “like-minded countries” or partnering with them to further develop the system.
Conroy says bluntly that he believes “Australia has underperformed on defence exports” in recent years. However, the minister is now bullish on the prospects not just for increasing exports, but also maturing Australia’s defence industry as a “second supply line” for the USA in products including precision munitions.
“We face the most uncertain strategic circumstances since World War Two,” Conroy says. “It’s my job to lead, with the deputy prime minister, in speeding up the acquisition cycle.”