One of the ADF’s worst kept acquisition secrets has been confirmed by the Government, with the formal announcement of the acquisition of four Gulfstream/L3 MC-55A Peregrine electronic warfare support aircraft for the RAAF under Project AIR 555.
Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and Minister for Defence Industry Linda Reynolds announced the acquisition of the aircraft, which are based on the Gulfstream G550 business jet, in a March 18 joint statement. They confirmed the aircraft will be based at RAAF Edinburgh near Adelaide alongside P-8A Poseidon, MQ-4C Triton and MQ-9 Predator/Reaper intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems.
“The Peregrine is a new airborne electronic warfare capability that will be integrated into Defence’s joint warfighting networks, providing a critical link between platforms, including the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, E-7A Wedgetail, EA-18G Growler, Navy’s surface combatants and amphibious assault ships and ground assets to support the warfighter,” Minister Pyne said in a statement.
“This capability and the people who operate it will bring Air Force a step closer to becoming a fully networked fifth-generation force and further exploit the joint combat multiplier effects on exercises and operations,” Minister Pyne said.
Although the aircraft will be operated by the RAAF’s Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group (SRG), it is not clear whether they will be integrated with an existing squadron or if a new operational squadron will be created. The release also made no mention of when the aircraft would enter service or achieve an operational capability.
The requirement for the aircraft was first realised under the former Project DEF 555 which has since been split into discrete LAND, SEA and AIR projects. The requirement was outlined in the 2016 Defence White Paper which said, “The Government will strengthen electronic warfare support to naval, air and land forces for operations in hostile electromagnetic environments including through the introduction of new long-range electronic warfare support aircraft based on a long-range commercial business jet in the early 2020s.”
Those who attended the March 2016 RAAF Airpower Conference will recall then Defence Minister Marise Payne highlighting the G550s in her keynote speech and even using the MC-55 designation for the first time, reportedly much to the consternation of senior Defence officials, although any record of that reference does not appear in the official transcript of her speech.
In June 2017 a US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announcement revealed the US State Department had approved the sale of the aircraft and their systems. The DSCA notification said Australia had “requested the possible sale of up to five Gulfstream G550 aircraft modified to integrate Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare (AISREW) mission systems.”
The MC-55A program has been managed through the US Air Force’s 645th Aeronautical Systems Group (ASG), otherwise known as ‘Big Safari’, an organisation that specialises in the acquisition, modification, and support of special purpose aircraft.
“The proposed sale supports and complements the ongoing efforts of Australia to modernise its electronic warfare capability, and increases interoperability between the US Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force,” the DSCA stated.
The Peregrine name continues the RAAF’s recent pattern of naming ISR platforms after birds of prey, with Projects Nankeen and Aquila both being project names for systems operated in Afghanistan, and of course Wedgetail being the name for Project AIR 5077 which resulted in the Boeing E-7A AEW&C.
The G550s will be modified by L3 at the company’s Greenville Texas facility.