As reported by Defence Connect on Friday, US aerospace giant General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) and the MQ-9 Reaper series of medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) aircraft has been pre-selected as the basis for Australia's future armed unmanned aerial system (UAS) fleet.
Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI, said, "We’ll work closely with Team Reaper Australia partners to provide a highly capable and affordable remote pilot aircraft system (RPAS) to the ADF, while creating meaningful and enduring Australian jobs."
GA-ASI said the ADF joins other top-tier military forces in choosing an MQ-9 variant because of its proven multi-role combat performance. Known as the 'operators' choice, the MQ-9 is part of GA-ASI’s Predator series of RPAS, which hails from a family of RPAS that recently surpassed 5 million flight hours.
Defence Minister Christoper Pyne said, "Medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft have a far greater range than smaller remotely piloted aircraft and can continuously observe an area of interest for much longer than manned reconnaissance aircraft."
The Reaper variants available for Australia to choose from include:
- Predator B/Reaper: An evolution of the original General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, the enlarged MQ-9 has a number of operation improvements over the older system. According to the US Air Force, MQ-9 is capable of carrying 15 times the payload of the original MQ-1 Predator and is is designed to go after time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets with 500-pound (226-kilogram) bombs and Hellfire missiles.
- Gray Eagle: Another evolution of the combat-proven Predator, the Gray Eagle offers a reliable, affordable, low-risk, and compelling next-generation tactical UAS solution to meet challenging service requirements for persistent reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) and attack operations. Gray Eagle has an endurance of 25 hours, speeds up to 167 knots, can operate up to 29,000 feet, and carries 488 kilograms of internal and external payload.
- Gray Eagle - Extended Ranger (ER): An advanced variant of the Gray Eagle, the ER design delivers long-endurance UAS surveillance, communications relay, and weapons delivery missions in support of the war-fighter. The ER variant is designed to carry an additional 204 kilograms of fuel over the standard Gray Eagle variant, allowing for a maximum endurance of 42 hours. Use of this extra fuel supports persistent RSTA missions.
- Predator C/Avenger: The most advanced variant of the Predator/Reaper family of armed UAS, the Avenger provides a number of capability improvements over the preceding variants, including a high-speed jet engine designed by Pratt & Whitney, while the aircraft's significant wing hardpoint payload mounting capacity enables it to carry multiple sensors, while its internal weapons bay can house 1,360 kilograms of precision munitions or larger sensor payloads.
Each of the Reaper variants are operated from a common ground control station and are air-transportable by RAAF C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster airlifters, or independently deployable, providing Australian expeditionary forces with a highly capable, reliable and persistent close-air-support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, no matter the variant chosen.
"General Atomics, as the original equipment manufacturer of the Reaper, has partnered with a large number of Australian companies who provide a range of innovative sensor, communication, manufacturing and life cycle support capabilities," Blue said.
A core component of GA-ASI's offer is the focus on developing Team Reaper Australia (TRA) and the nation's industrial contribution to the Armed Remotely Piloted Aircraft System program.
Andrew Sanderson, chief executive and managing director of TAE Aerospace said, "The announcement of the selection of the General Atomics MQ9B platform for the Air 7003 project represents a significant opportunity for our Adelaide-based turboprop engine MRO business."
The TRA team currently consists of 10 Australian companies providing a range of innovative sensor, communication, manufacturing and life cycle support capabilities that includes Cobham, CAE, Raytheon, Flight Data Systems, TAE Aerospace, Quickstep, AirSpeed, Rockwell Collins Australia, Ultra, and SentientVision.
"The MQ9B is powered by the Honeywell TPE331 turboprop engine and we are the leading Honeywell approved MRO provider for the TPE331 engine in the Southern hemisphere. We have full capability for the engine today in our Adelaide Airport facility and we look forward to working with General Atomics to expand our world-class support solution for the engines that will power Australia’s MQ9B fleet, " Sanderson said.
Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo said the project provides opportunities for Australian industry with associated infrastructure development and sustainment activities.
"General Atomics, as the original equipment manufacturer of the Reaper, has partnered with a large number of Australian companies who provide a range of innovative sensor, communication, manufacturing and life cycle support capabilities," Minister Ciobo explained.
The government will now request pricing and availability data from the US on Reaper variants to support future decision-making on the acquisition.
This announcement follows the recent government decision to purchase MQ-4C Triton high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) surveillance and reconnaissance systems, which will provide long-range, high-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for the ADF.