Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and Defence Industry Minister, Steven Ciobo's joint announcement in late 2018 that GA-ASI and their Team Reaper Australia (TRA) had been had been selected as the preferred supplier for Australia's future medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE), armed unmanned aerial system (UAS) has opened the doors for Australia's defence industry to participate in the long-term sustainment, operational support and logistics of the as yet to be chosen Reaper variant.
Cobham is the lead partner with GA-ASI in Team Reaper Australia (TRA), the Australian industry consortium that GA-ASI has assembled to deliver and support Project Air 7003 throughout its service life.
The Cobham and GA-ASI relationship was first established in the early 2000s to drive collaboration on the introduction of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) into Australia originally with the announcement of Joint Program 129 Phase 3 search for a tactical unmanned aerial vehicle as outlined in the 2012 Defence Capability Guide.
This relationship of more than 10 years has paved the way for continued industrial development and collaboration, prior to the development of the AIR 7003 program identified in the 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP), which called for the acquisition of an: "armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft in the early 2020s. The new armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft will provide enhanced firepower and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to a range of missions including counter-terrorism missions overseas, while augmenting our [Australia's] surveillance capability for search and rescue, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and other tasks."
The unique operational and strategic requirements of unmanned aerial systems requires a complex system of maintenance, logistics and sustainment services to support both the airframes, the weapons systems, the communications infrastructure and ground stations required to support the systems.
Anthony Patterson, Cobham Director Business Development, told Defence Connect, "In traditional platforms there is substantial cost involved in the initial platform acquisition with approximately the same costs associated with through-life maintenance, sustainment and logistics support for the platform. In the case of an unmanned system, the initial acquisition cost is relatively smaller with a greater proportion of the costs applied to the operational sustainment and logistics over the life of the platform. It is the through life sustainment element where Cobham sits within Team Reaper Australia."
Cobham's experience supporting the Royal Air Force's MQ-9A Reaper ground stations establishes the framework for Cobham's local industrial participation in Australia, building on the relationship already developed between GA-ASI and Cobham in Australia.
"What we have seen based on our experience in the UK is that through-life support usually gets spent in country as opposed to overseas, and this presents more opportunities for Australian industry and Cobham in particular to participate in the through-life support, maintenance process for Australia's remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS)," Patterson added.
Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo reinforced Patterson's comments regarding Australian industry participation, saying 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 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.
Project AIR 7003 will provide the Australian Defence Force with an Armed medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) RPA system that will include aircraft and ground control stations (GCS) that will be fully inter-operable with Australia’s allies.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, an affiliate of privately-held General Atomics, is a leading manufacturer of remotely piloted aircraft systems, radars and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions.