Australia still hopes to acquire an armed, long-range unmanned air vehicle in a similar class to the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper, but moving forward with a “recommended project” depends on the outcome of a pending force structure review.
That review, the Defence White Paper, takes into consideration the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) request for a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV, but is awaiting examination and release by the country’s new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
RAAF Air Chief Marshal Leo Davies, speaking at the Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference earlier today, said the service specifically needs the UAV to be armed and capable of beyond-line-of-sight operations via satellite link.
Australian personnel are already embedded alongside their USAF counterparts at Holloman AFB in New Mexico learning how to operate the Reaper, to inform any future choice.
Davies says the IAI Heron UAV proved its value during Australian operations in Afghanistan, but flights were limited to radio communication range.
“Regardless of airframe type, that role became very important in our work in Afghanistan,” Davies says. “There are multiple aircraft types that would fill that role.
“There’s a project being recommended to start, but it’s not started yet because we don’t have the force structure review. What decision comes out, I don’t know. The air force is saying it should be armed and it should have satellite communications.”