Team Reaper Australia, which GA-ASI chief executive Linden Blue and Defence South Australia's Air Chief Marshal (Ret'd) Sir Angus Houston AK, AFC unveiled earlier this year at Avalon Airshow, now consists of nine Australian companies providing a range of sensor, communication, manufacturing and life-cycle support capabilities.
Project AIR 7003 Phase 1 is calling for a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial system (UAS), colloquially known as self-piloted killer drones.
The team, already made up of Cobham, Raytheon Australia, CAE Australia and Flight Data Systems, now includes TAE Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, Ultra Electronics Australia, Airspeed and Quickstep Holdings.
GA-ASI said its solution for Project AIR 7003 will provide a system fully-interoperable with Australia's allies, including the US, the UK and France, and will also create enduring jobs for Australians.
"General Atomics recognises the importance of having a robust team of Australian industry partners to support the Air 7003 requirements," said Blue. "We are strongly committed to partnerships with Australian industry and to providing a capable, affordable RPA system to the Australian Defence Force."
The new additions to the team spoke of their excitement to showcase their growing capabilities with an international partner in GA-ASI.
"TAE Aerospace is looking forward to working with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and the other members of Team Reaper Australia to support the Air 7003 requirement," said Darren Hutchinson, chief strategy officer of TAE Aerospace. "As Australia’s largest gas turbine engine MRO provider, we believe this project will provide substantial benefit to Australia’s local industry and showcase our innovative through-life support capabilities to the world."
Nicholas Gibbs, Rockwell Collins Australia managing director, said, "Rockwell Collins has a proven history of providing innovative mission system solutions that meet the specific needs of the Australian Defence Force. Joining Team Reaper Australia will solidify the work we’ve been doing with General Atomics to set the standards for UAS to access civil airspace."
Ultra Electronics market leader Electronic Warfare & C2ISR Peter Weir said, “We look forward to supporting Team Reaper by supplying the UAS with special-purpose sensors that are designed and manufactured in Australia."
Steve Barlow, managing director of Airspeed, agreed, "We are thrilled to be part of Team Reaper Australia, offering our reconfigurable and proven airborne equipment pod to house payloads on Reaper."
Mark Burgess, CEO and managing director of Quickstep Holdings, said, "As Australia’s largest independent, aerospace-grade, advanced composites manufacturer, we look forward to being part of General Atomics’ Team Reaper Australia solution for Project Air 7003’s requirement for remotely piloted aircraft. This project fits well with our strategic direction, manufacturing capabilities and capacity availability, and adds to Australia’s further development of sovereign capability."
Peter Nottage, CEO of Cobham Aviation Services, added, "The expansion of our Australian team further strengthens our robust portfolio of experience delivering innovative and technologically-advanced, turn-key solutions to support Australian government and defence operations."
While the Defence Integrated Investment Program (DIIP) lists Project AIR 7003 Phase 1 as one that is a contestable, IAI, Israel’s largest defence company and a supplier of UAS solutions, has claimed the Department of Defence has blocked out the company from tendering in favour of a foreign military sale (FMS) of the US General Atomics Reaper.
IAI, which has had representation in Australia for the last 35 years, has been attempting to put forward its Heron TP capability, the armed and improved variant of the recently withdrawn Heron, which has an altitude of up to 45,000 feet and a maximum take off weight of 5,400 kilograms, but the company said the department has all but decided on an FMS of the Reaper.
"All indications are, from the department and particularly from the Air Force, the Air Force wants to sole source it through FMS to General Atomics for their Reaper/Certifiable Predator B variant," said Claire Willette, IAI's senior consultant on the project.
While it is not surprising that the Australian Air Force would favour the same UAS capability as its US ally, the process for acquiring this capability is seemingly lacking due diligence.
"This is one of the problems we have with this process, the lack of transparency," vice president of IAI's Military Aircraft Group Shaul Shahar said.
"This is a contestable project, according to the IIP. Now, there [are] two suppliers/two countries' companies that [have] this capability to support the requirements in this project. As a company we have a significant footprint all over the world with our product ... We think that we have a solution that can benefit of Australia.
"Because of the lack of transparency in this process, and it's very weird to us because we expect that there will be a process including evaluation, risk analysis, according to all the stages that they need. At the end they can decide to go to sole source, but during the evaluation, we thought that they need to check what other alternatives that are on the table and to have all the data needed to do this analysis. If they (RAAF) didn't approach us, and up to now haven’t given us the chance to know what questions need to be answered, what information we need to bring to the table, it means they are moving forward without going through all the right stages in their stated process."
The Department of Defence previously told Defence Connect, "Defence is considering a range of options for the future Australian Defence Force capability to be delivered by AIR 7003. No decision on which system will be acquired has been made."