Australia building aerial might with UAV purchase
Australia’s plan to buy a dozen or more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made in the United States will give its military improved reconnaissance over key trade routes and armed air support for military missions in the South Pacific and beyond.
Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said in November 2018 that Australia would buy 12 to 16 MQ-9B Reaper aircraft from U.S.-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., according to a report in The Wall Street Journalnewspaper.
“These new aircraft will provide enhanced firepower and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to a range of missions,” Pyne said. The cost of the UAVs could reach U.S. $1.5 billion, according to previous government estimates.
The Reapers mainly will be used to provide cover for Australian Soldiers by flying overhead and potentially neutralizing threats with bombs or missiles, according The Sydney Morning Heraldnewspaper.
The aircraft will be based in South Australia state, but they also could operate from forward bases in the Indian Ocean, the Journalreported. That would give them a range that reaches across Indonesia and over strategic trade routes around the Malacca Strait. The UAVs will dramatically expand Australia’s ability to spot military ships in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Reapers will be interoperable with those used by Australian allies in the region, most notably the U.S. In addition to defending Australian and coalition land forces, they could be used for search-and-rescue missions. The Reapers, which can fly for up to 27 hours, are classified as medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft, according to General Atomics’ website.
Although Reapers are piloted remotely from the ground, many experts predict that UAVs will become increasingly autonomous as discoveries are made in robotics and artificial intelligence. “Things will move on from Reaper,” said Malcolm Davis, a military expert at the Australian Policy Institute, according to the Herald story. “This [purchase] allows us to keep our eye on that future and be ready to exploit it. Reaper opens the door to a more expanded armed UAV force.” (Pictured: A U.S. Air Force officer walks in front of a Reaper UAV at an air base in Kandahar, Afghanistan.)
In addition to keeping human pilots safe, the unmanned aircraft’s endurance is one of its key attributes, Pyne said. He noted that a Reaper could fly over a target for a longer period than a manned aircraft. “Remotely piloted aircraft allow military commanders to make more informed decisions faster whilst providing the option to conduct strike and reconnaissance operations without risking the safety of aircrew,” he said in a prepared statement.
Australia is the first Indo-Pacific country to acquire the same UAV used by the U.S. military in the Middle East and Afghanistan.