Defence has confirmed that it has brought in-house a project that is intended to deliver an interim processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) capability for airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, overlooking a design from Thales Australia.
While the Defence Portfolio Budget Statements 2016-17 correctly listed Thales as being the prime contractor for the Distributed Ground Station – Australia (Interim) project in early May, Defence took over in June as a result of “commercial and practical” considerations.
“Under contract, Thales completed preliminary design, at which point Defence exercised an option to compare the contractor design against an internal design,” a Defence spokesperson told Australian Defence Business Review.
“For a number of commercial and practical reasons, the internal design was preferred and the change occurred in June 2016. The project remains on track.”
The budget document outlines how the project is delivering a system that will provide a limited multi-source PED capability for airborne ISR assets to directly support Australian Defence Force (ADF) and allied exercises and operations.
The Distributed Ground Station – Australia (Interim) project will develop and test operating concepts, and build expertise in distributed PED operations, the document states.
“Thales was involved in this initiative in its earlier stages, but is playing no further role due to the changing direction of the project,” a spokesman for Thales Australia told Australian Defence Business Review in a statement.
Although this is regarded as a minor project, with approved expenditure of just $8 million, delivery of the interim centralised PED capability will inform the development of the Distributed Ground Station Australia, or DGS-AUS, which the Integrated Investment Program values at somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion, with a timeframe of 2019 to 2029.
The DGS-AUS program – otherwise known as AIR 3503 – will enable predominantly uniformed intelligence analysts to process, exploit and analyse airborne ISR feeds in support of ADF operations, as Defence separately told Australian Defence Business Review in September.
In other ISR news, the AIR 7003 Phase 1 Medium Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial System project, under which an armed ISR and attack capability is being acquired for the ADF, reached ‘Gate Zero’ in early November, Defence has confirmed.
This project may now be progressed for initial government consideration; meanwhile, Defence is continuing to develop a policy on the employment of armed unmanned platforms, a spokesperson told Australian Defence Business Review.