The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) could be due to receive a new electronic intelligence (ELINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft, following a recent US Air Force contract award to L-3 Communications.
In a deal announced on 28 December 2015, the USAF granted a $92.6 million contract for an “undefinitized contract action task order for Australia government G550 aircraft procurement and maintenance”.
The work – which is understood to involve two aircraft – will be performed at L-3's Greenville site in Texas, and should be completed by 30 November 2017.
No details were given about the nature of the work, or about the number of aircraft involved. The RAAF also has yet to formally announce a requirement for such an intelligence-gathering aircraft. The US contracting authority, however, is the 645th Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. Known as “Big Safari”, this manages special-mission-variant aircraft derived from existing platforms.
Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer database shows that the RAAF operates 15 Lockheed Martin AP-3Cs, of which two serve in the ELINT/SIGINT mission. The average age of the Australian fleet is 33.6 years. Of the ELINT/SIGINT aircraft, the AP-3C bearing serial number A9-659 is 30.4 years old, while A9-657 is 30.9 years old.
The eventual retirement of Australia’s broader AP-3C anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft fleet in favour of the Boeing P-8A and Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned air vehicle suggests that a replacement for the two specialised AP-3Cs would also be sought.
Fleets Analyzer shows that six G550s are in service as military aircraft. The Republic of Singapore Air Force has four G550s equipped for the airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) mission, while Israel has two, along with another three in a SIGINT configuration (pictured). The Italian air force has ordered two of the type for the AEW&C role.