Updated March 24 with additional information on Northrop Grumman’s proposal.
The Commonwealth has announced a list of contenders for the RAN’s Project SEA 129 Phase 5 Block 1 Maritime Unmanned Aircraft System (MUAS) requirement.
The shortlisted companies include BAE Systems Australia, Insitu Pacific , Northrop Grumman Australia, Raytheon Australia, and Textron Systems Australia. While no air vehicles were mentioned in the release, ADBR understands Textron will be offering the Aerosonde Mk4.7/HQ system, Raytheon will team with Schiebel Pacific for the S-100 Camcopter, and Insitu will offer its ScanEagle/Integrator family.
Northrop Grumman subsequently announced on March 24 it has teamed with Leonardo to offer the AWHero VTUAS. BAE Systems was unable to confirm what air vehicle it would be offering at time of writing, but one possible option could be a possible teaming with SAAB with the Skeldar V-200B VTUAS.
“This Program will acquire maritime unmanned intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting aircraft systems which will complement current sensors and systems on Navy’s ships, while boosting a ship’s area of surveillance,” acting Defence Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
The ScanEagle and Schiebel S-100 systems have already seen limited service with the RAN’s 822x SQN including being embarked at sea through the Naval Minor Program (NMP) 1942, an uncapitalised effort to help the RAN define its SEA 129 Phase 5 requirements. The Aerosonde V4/HQ has been shortlisted by the Australian Army for its LAND 129 Phase 3 TUAS requirement to replace the Shadow 200 in service, while the Aerosonde and the V-Bat are being trialled by the US Army for that service’s FTUAS program, also to replace the Shadow.
Originally due to have been announced last December, the shortlist announcement has been delayed due to a higher than expected number of responses to the original ITR. The shortlist will see the contenders proceed to a limited request for tender (RFT) which ADBR understands will be issued in early 2022, for final down-select later that year.
As was released on 6 August 2020, the ITR covers the first of three program ‘Blocks’ of SEA 129 Phase 5. Block 1 will see seven maritime UAS ‘capability bricks’ acquired, and will focus on “workforce growth, training system development, Combat Management System (CMS) integration, and payload development”. The ITR says Block 1 systems will be operated primarily from the forthcoming Arafura class offshore patrol vessels (OPV) as well as Navy’s ANZAC class frigates (FFH), with service entry scheduled for 2024.
Defence’s intent is for Block 1 to be a “whole-of-systems solution provided by a single supplier”, although it says it will consider two suppliers to separate OPV operations from the ANZAC class if necessary. Block 1 may also be expanded, as ADBR understands the RAN may field its own MUAS capability from its two Canberra class LHDs instead of the previous plan to embark Army UAS that will be procured under LAND 129 Phase 3.
“By incorporating new technology through block upgrades every five years, the program supports the development of Australia’s Unmanned Aircraft System industry, and provides the Navy with a leading edge maritime surveillance capability,” Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price added. “This process will allow Australian businesses to be directly involved in providing greater situational awareness for the Fleet, in particular the new Arafura Offshore Patrol Vessels, while strengthening long-term job growth and security.”
While not covered in the initial ITR, SEA 129 Phase 5 Block 2 will follow from 2029 and will provide a capability refresh of the Block 1 systems, and add an additional five capability bricks to cover the new Hunter class frigates. Block 3 is planned for 2034 and will comprise a comprehensive update and refresh of the UAS capability’s 12 capability bricks, training, and support systems.