Potential industrial participants in Australia's stalled national UAV initiative have met in an effort to breathe new life into the troubled project.

The overall push may include attempting to fast-track development of wide-band tactical communications relay technologies as a potential high pay-off target says Warren Williams, initiative coordinator and managing director of the Canberra-based Codarra Advanced Systems company.

If progressed, he suggests that a system could potentially be ready to unveil at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s 2007 Unmanned Systems North America expo.

Williams says the national UAV initiative, launched some two years ago with joint government and industry support “has stalled” despite the creation of a joint venture company – Unmanned Technologies Australia - in August 2005. Consortium members met 1 November to examine forward options after an extensive programme review and conduct of a new project definition study. “We hope to accelerate over the next 3-4 months”.

“Two to three options” have been identified by the review Williams says, ranging from focusing purely on UAV payloads to continued development of a complete UAV system based on the conversion of a light sports aircraft.

The early programme strategy was predicated around development of a complete UAV system using a Jabiru Australia LSA series light sport aircraft modified into an optionally piloted platform for use as a demonstration test-bed for a suite of new technologies.

Williams says that the Jabiru type remains a possibility but other kit aircraft have been examined as part of reconsideration of how the complete systems approach might be progressed. The platform endurance target is focused on 20h flight capability.

The potential focus on communications technologies is being heavily influenced by perceived Australian Defence Force requirements for tactical broadband capabilities in remote areas, with potential for spin-offs into the commercial market. The payload would effectively serve as “a cheap satellite” Williams says.

Unmanned Technologies Australia comprises Codarra; CAE Australia; LSM Advanced Composites; Micro Air; Pro¬duction Parts; and Lavender Engineering. The initiative, kicked off the Australian Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources (DITR) in March 2004, initially attracted interest from a significant number of companies, including the likes of Aerosonde, BAE Systems Australia and Boeing Australia. All three of those major players walked away in late 2004 and the first half of 2005.

The lack of wider industrial participation and slow progress in locking down funding commitments from Australian state and Federal government agencies has directly impeded the progress of the initiative Williams say. DITR mandated that the initiative would have to seek funds from existing Australian government research and development programmes with this being matched by industry contributions, rather than providing grant capital at programme launch in 2004.

Notwithstanding, available funds now stand at around $AUD1 million says Williams, with half that amount coming from consortium members. The consortium is also looking for international investors.

Outcomes of the review meeting are expected to emerge in coming weeks.

Source: FlightGlobal.com