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Flying Start to NW Shelf Unmanned Aircraft Trial

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence Media Mail List

PARLSEC 082/2006
Friday 1 September 2006

Flying Start to North West Shelf Unmanned Aircraft Trial

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, Senator Sandy Macdonald, today launched a major Defence trial aimed at testing the ability of an unmanned aircraft to perform maritime surveillance in Australia’s North West Shelf.

Senator Macdonald said the trial involves a Mariner Demonstrator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) working with a Royal Australian Navy Armidale Class Patrol Boat, the Joint Offshore Protection Command and the Pilbara Regiment to conduct surveillance and response missions.

A demonstration flight of the UAV has been performed today at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia, which will act as the control and communications centre while the aircraft is airborne.

“The North West Shelf is of vital strategic and economic importance to Australia and enhancing existing security in this area is a priority for the government. This trial meets an election commitment outlined in our 2004 policy on Securing Australia’s North West Shelf,” he said.

Senator Macdonald said the trial will assess the potential of UAVs to operate under a joint, integrated surveillance capability with the Navy’s Armidale Class Patrol Boats and other assets to provide an additional layer of surveillance in Australia’s northern maritime approaches.

“It is essential to explore new solutions and new technologies to protect this region from criminal activities such as illegal fishing, drug running and people smuggling,” Senator Macdonald said.

The trial is being led by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) in collaboration with Navy, Army, the Royal Australian Air Force and other elements of Defence as well as the Joint Offshore Protection Command. US company General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is participating in the trial with a Mariner Demonstrator UAV as the aerial platform.

The UAV will fly four missions over the North West Shelf leaving RAAF Edinburgh on September 4 for Western Australia where it will operate out of RAAF Learmonth and return to South Australia on September 19. Individual sorties will vary between eight hours and more than 16 hours. During each mission the UAV will record the movements of vessels passing through Australian waters and exchange information with the Patrol Boat. Data collected by the UAV will be transmitted to RAAF Edinburgh for analysis.

The aircraft can fly at altitudes between 500 feet and 50,000 feet for as long as 30 hours without re-fuelling.

Senator Macdonald said the GA-ASI UAV had been specially modified for the purposes of the Australian trial. It will carry only sensor and communications equipment suitable for maritime surveillance missions.

As a complementary activity, another US company, Northrop Grumman, will be conducting modelling and simulation work in October, using its Cyber Warfare Integration Network capability.

“Modelling and simulation will enable Defence to assess a range of factors not encountered during the trial flights and to consider how future systems might perform in the Australian environment,” Senator Macdonald said.

“The UAV trial was a valuable exercise for Defence with results from this trial to assist Defence in developing the requirements for phase one of the Air 7000 project. Under this project Defence plans to acquire a long endurance, multi-mission unmanned aerial system.”

Senator Macdonald said information gathered during the trial would also assist the government to consider unmanned aerial systems for future operations under the civilian maritime surveillance program.


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