Australia is exploring fitting a more capable maritime mode radar to its planned fleet of broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) endurance UAVs rather than accept the system adopted by the US Navy under the two nation programme formalised 13 January.

Australia is also seeking to adapt the full BAMS air vehicle sensor suite to support active reporting on real time separation distances from other air traffic, and actively monitor adverse weather to support flight path planning and determine deviation requirements.

The alternate radar would be capable of detecting small wooden hull vessels – what Australia refers to as “type III targets” - says the US Navy PMA 263 unmanned air systems programme office.

Navy officials addressing a bidders briefing held in Lexington, Maryland on 9 February say Australian unique requirements have now been incorporated into the US BAMS request for proposals, due for release midway through this month.

PMA 263 chief engineer Tom Garrett told the briefing that the Australian requirements “are not hard requirements; they are not threshold requirements. Each and every one of the requisites…are objectives and are to be treated as objectives.”

The type III target capability incorporates “detection, classification and identification. There are some additional overland requirements for ground moving target identification, automatic moving target indication.”

In the event of lost communications, Australia also wants the UAV to have an automatic IFF squawk mode, Garrett said.

Australian Defence Force officials speaking at the briefing said timings for government approvals of the expected Australian purchase were being synchronised with US Navy programme milestones through the addition of an additional review by the National Security of Cabinet (NSC). That body normally reviews a project twice before an acquisition is authorised in what is known as a “two pass” system.

The addition of an “intermediate” pass will see the NSC review Australia’s involvement in the BAMS project in early 2008, after the US Navy programme achieves it’s milestone b or source selection decision said GpCapt Captain Warren Nelson from the Australian Defence headquarter’s Capability Development Executive. First pass has already been secured for the project.

The new intermediate pass will be preceded by consideration of the acquisition by the Australian Defence Capability Committee, the peak internal Department of Defence acquisition approvals body, in November this year.

“We are going back as a checkpoint to government with intermediate pass after milestone b, reporting the outcomes and then seeking approvals to proceed forward post milestone b.”

The intermediate pass will also include seeking Australian government approval for the appointment of an industry capability partner (ICP) to develop its own integrated ground environment for the BAMS system. The Australian DoD will release a separate tender for the ICP in coming weeks.

Nelson told the briefing that once intermediate pass approvals are secured “we would proceed forward for…milestone C. There would be a second pass, which is a final acquisition decision by the Australian government where we commit to orders for the production of the system.”

The notional target date for that second pass is currently scheduled for third quarter calendar year 2013, however this is ahead of the current US Navy milestone c decision and may result in it being pushed back, Nelson said.

Second pass would be preceded by the release of a restricted request for tender to the selected BAMS prime contractor in mid 2010.