Initial large field for Australian programme dwindles

Bids for the Australian Department of Defence's Joint Project 129 tactical unmanned air vehicle (TUAV) competition closed on 23 November, with just three bids submitted due to the high programme costs.

The offer from French firm Sagem and Australian companies Tenix Defence Systems and Aerosonde collapsed shortly before the tender closed. Tenix managing director, Paul Salteri, instigated the withdrawal after becoming concerned at a potential escalation of costs associated with adapting Sagem's Sperwer UAV system to accept the tactical common datalink (TCDL) in place of existing Sagem hardware.

Many viewed the Australian requirement as an important reference project for the TUAV sector, and initially it attracted a large field of potential contenders. However, most were put off after the Australian government allocated the project an effective expenditure budget of less than A$100 million ($80 million) and mandated the use of its Doors electronic tendering system for bid preparation and submission.

The remaining contenders for the project are AAI/BAE Systems Australia, offering a derivative of the Shadow 200 system, Elbit Systems' Silver Arrow unit, offering the Hermes 180 with Thales subsidiary ADI, and Israel Aircraft Industries/Boeing Australia offering the I-View. Drawing on Thales' successful bid for the UK's Watchkeeper TUAV programme, Elbit's proposal includes a growth option for its larger Hermes 450 air vehicle.

Northrop Grumman and Raytheon had explored offering the RQ-8 Firescout, and received classified bid documents before withdrawing. EADS also elected not to bid, despite having previously included the project in its long-term Australian strategy. The company had viewed competing for JP129 as an important prelude to a potential campaign to offer the Euromale medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV for Australia's Air 7000 maritime surveillance requirement. Both companies cite excessive costs and the project's small budget as key reasons for withdrawing.

A proposed bid of the Aerostar UAV family by Israel's Aeronautics, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems Australia was also shelved. General Dynamics says it did not bid because of problems finding partners in Australia.

Germany's Rheinmetall Defence Electronics attempted to team with Raytheon Australia and Qantas Defence Systems based on offering a derivative of the KZO system, but Raytheon Australia's decision not to join left it without an Australian systems integrator.



Source: Flight International