Australia is preparing to defer its planned acquisition of Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks by at least two years and will instead invest additional funds into development of a possible combined maritime and land surveillance variant of the long-endurance unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

Consideration is also being given to creation of a combined manned and unmanned aircraft-equipped maritime surveillance group as part of replacement plans for the Royal Australian Air Force's Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The concept will be explored as part of the RAAF's new battlefield experimentation framework launched last year.

The Global Hawk purchase deferral is being considered by the Australian government with a final decision due later this month. The deferral is expected to result in funding for an initial number of air vehicles and ground systems being included in the 2006 or 2007 budget, with service entry in 2009-10.

Earlier planning had been based on funding in the May 2004 budget, with a baseline system available in 2007. The May 2004 budget will instead contain the additional investment programme funding.

Air Vice Marshal Norm Gray, head of airborne surveillance programmes in the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation, says the planned second phase of collaborative development will seek to link the US Navy's maritime and US Air Force's separate land surveillance requirements.

Australia wants to be a "catalyst" for a common US requirement Gray says. "Our previous dealings with the USA has tended to indicate that if the USN and USAF have a relatively common requirement we will end up with two unique variants of Global Hawk. What we want is a single air vehicle with modular payloads."

Source: Flight International