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L3 awarded contract for RAAF Gulfstream MC-55 EW support aircraft


An Israeli Air Force IAI Sahvit ELINT-configured G550. (IAI)

The US DoD has awarded L3 Technologies a US$83m (A$112m) contract for the upgrade of two Gulfstream G550 business jets to the MC-55 electronic warfare support configuration for the RAAF.

Contracted through the USAF’s 645th Aeronautical Systems Group, also known as Big Safari based at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, the two G550s are the first of five for the RAAF, the requirement for which is being managed through Project AIR555.

The contract award follows the June 2017 notification of the potential sale of the aircraft by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). According to the DSCA statement, the Australian government requested the potential sale of the G550 aircraft which will be modified to integrate the mission systems and GPS capability, secure communications and aircraft defensive systems.

The DSCA says the US$1.3bn (A$1.75bn) program will include spares, including whole-life costs of airborne and ground segments; aircraft modification and integration; ground systems for data processing and crew training; ground support equipment; publications and technical data; US government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services; flight test and certification; and other related elements of logistical and program support.

The 2016 Defence Integrated Investment Program (IIP) stated that Defence would acquire long-range electronic warfare support aircraft based on the G550 airframe with additional and modified systems from the early 2020s. The aircraft will be acquired in two tranches (2+3) and incrementally upgraded to maintain commonality with US-developed systems, and the first two ‘green’ Gulfstream G550 airframes were ordered in January 2016.

While the USAF doesn’t currently operate a similar system based on the G550, it has a requirement to replace its fleet of EC-130H Hercules ‘Compass Call’ and other systems with a large business jet airframe.

Italy, Israel and Singapore operate G550s modified by IAI with large conformal antennae and other enhancements in the AEW&C role, and the US Navy has also ordered a similar configured aircraft for range-control work. Various other special-mission G550s serve with the US government and other countries.

The MC-55s will replace the RAAF’s two ‘Project Peacemate’ AP-3C Orions in service from 2022/23. The new aircraft are being modified at L3’s Greenville facility in Texas.