Australia considers sole-source Global Hawk purchase

Published 6 July 2006

UAVs are increasingly popular among militaries, homeland security agencies, and law enforcements units; the Australian government is on the verge of making a major UAV purchasing decision, and there are four companies competing for the contract and three options on how to buy the drones

Australia’s cabinet National Security Committee (NSC) will consider next week the sole-source acquisition of Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned air vehicles (UAV). This option is being presented by the Australian Department of Defense as the lowest-risk approach to meeting the Royal Australian Air Force’s Project Air 7000 HALE UAV requirement.

The DoD’s submission proposes three acquisition options, including the sole-source approach. Option two is for Australia formally to link its HALE requirements to the U.S. Navy’s delayed Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program, potentially allowing for that project to evolve into a cooperative multinational procurement with shared industrial participation. Option three is for a restricted competition between Monrovia, Canada-based Aerovironment, San Diego, California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lod, Israel-based Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), and Northrop Grumman.

The four companies are offering the following:

—Aerovironment is proposing a version of its Global Observer fuel-cell-powered aircraft

—General Atomics offers to deploy a standard MQ-9 Predator B UAV to Australia in September to support a contracted Air 7000 capability demonstration (note that in earlier trials in Canada and the United States GA used the Mariner demonstrator). The UAV will be shipped to Australia and configured to be similar to a Predator B. The NASA-owned Altair UAV normally used by General Atomics as a Mariner demonstrator will be supporting fire-watch missions in the southern United States at the same time as the planned Australian flight program

IAI is offering a version of the Strength HALE aircraft developed for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in conjunction with Boeing Australia (IAI and Boeing are also teamed to meet an Australian Army tactical UAV requirement)

MORE: We reported a couple of weeks ago about the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department experiment with a UAV. The department wants to use a fleet of about twenty drones to survey crime scenes and disaster areas, arguing that the drones are much cheaper than helicopters and that they can go where helicopters cannot. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the department’s single UAV grounded until the department applies for a license to operate the drone (the FAA worries about potential conflict with air traffic over the city). Now there is a new source of opposition to the department’s UAV plan: Privacy advocates argue that the silent drone may peek into windows and in other ways violate citizens’ privacy.