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Australia’s MQ-9B SkyGuardian project axed

Australia’s MQ-9B SkyGuardian project axed

Defence has confirmed the scrapping of the multibillion-dollar project to deliver long-range ISR and strike capability to the RAAF.

Defence has confirmed the scrapping of the multibillion-dollar project to deliver long-range ISR and strike capability to the RAAF.

Matt Yannopoulos, associate secretary of the Department of Defence, has revealed to the Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade legislation committee, the cancellation of the AIR 7003 Phase 1 project — a $1.3 billion program to deliver General Atomics-built MQ-9B SkyGuardian armed medium altitude long endurance remotely piloted aircraft systems to the Royal Australian Air Force.

AIR 7003 Phase 1, which formed part of the Integrated Investment Program (IIP), aimed to deliver persistent airborne intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare and precision strike capability for the land and littoral environments.

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The government had already spent approximately $10 million on the program, which secured approval for up to 12 aircraft from the US State Department in April last year. 

Local industry was expected to provide a range of sensor, communication, manufacturing and life-cycle support capabilities to support the development of the unmanned aircraft.

A Defence spokesperson has told Defence Connect that the SkyGuardian project has been scrapped following advice from Defence officials, with government deciding to reallocate funds for Project REDSPICE (Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber, and Enablers) — a $9.9 billion investment over the next decade in the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

Of the $4.2 billion committed for REDSPICE over the forward estimates, just $588.7 million is new funding. 

Other funds reallocated from the IIP include prior commitments to ASD projects, which have been subsumed within REDSPICE, and a $236 million ICT remediation and modernisation initiative.  

Defence is also drawing from both approved and unapproved funds from the SEA 1000 project.

[Related: Budget 2022-23 released, Defence strategy unveiled]

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