January 10, 2012

Update On Australian Plans to Acquire Global Hawk style UAVs - Force Posture Review

The Australian Force Posture Review, announced June 22, 2011, will consider a wide range of issues - many specifically related to Australia's attitudes to the Indian Ocean strategic environment.

One issue is the massive size of the Indian Ocean and what are the best ways to keep is under surveillance. Australia uses or envisages using a wide range of ways (called "platforms") to watch:

- the whole Ocean:
  • using military/intelligence satellites owned by the US with some constant feeds to such ground stations as Pine Gap (central Australia) and Geraldton (on the mid coast of Western Australia).
  • land (Exmouth/North West Cape north coast of Western Australia) and navy ship based radio (eg VLF band) intercept stations. Perhaps also submarines...
- narrow/coastal surveillance -

to an extent all of the above as well as interception and radar equipment on small naval patrol boats and coastwatch boats, naval aircraft (see below) and coastwatch aircraft.

- mid range surveillance
  • land based, long range radar - the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) is an over-the-horizon radar network that can monitor air and sea movements out to (officially) 3,000 km. JORN radar stations are situated at Longreach, Queensland (JOR1) and a second near Laverton, Western Australia (JOR2), a control centre in Edinburgh, South Australia (JCC).
  • coastwatch aircraft and naval patrol P-3 Orions. There have been initial steps to acquire P-8 Poseidons to replace the P-3s by 2018.
After the P-8s are in service 2018-2020 the Australian Government intends to acquire high altitude long range surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) ) - also called 'Tier III' UAVs. This intention was announced in Subsection 9.70 of Australia 2009 Defence White Paper, which reads:

    We will also acquire up to seven large high-altitude, long endurance UAVs to supplement the manned maritime patrol aircraft. These large UAVs, with an ocean -spanning range, will markedly expand the surveillance coverage of the maritime approaches to Australia, in both area and duration. They will also have a significant overland capability to provide support to our ground forces in a range of circumstances. Strategic UAVs provide persistent ISR, enhancing our situational awareness in both the land and maritime domains.

 Global Hawk is the largest (weighs around 10 tonnes) and most well known long range (around 25,000 km), high altitude (20,000 metres or 65,000 feet) UAV but may be too expensive for Australia with capabilities that may be under-utilised by Australia alone.

Large (Tier III) UAVs are currently expensive and advanced niche platforms only operated by the US. Put another way only the US can currently afford large UAVs in a force mix that covers all Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) modes.

Australia is considering eventual acquisition of a large UAV type under Defence Material Organisation (DMO) AIR (for "air"-craft) 7000. AIR 7000 . AIR 7000 Phase 1B seeks"

- "Multi-mission Unmanned Aerial System (MUAS) [yet another acronym :] - a..."High Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Systems for maritime patrol and other surveillance." At a cost of A$1,000 million  to A$1,500 million which might buy 3 or 4.

In view of the high cost of Global Hawk and the network/shared nature of large scale surveillance information (already applying to satellites) it is possible that the US might operate Global Hawk from Australian landing sites. The arrangement might be of the leased/joint facilities type that already applies to Exmouth and Pine Gap. One might expect all information gained from Global Hawk to be fed to US and Australian defence agencies.
However joint control has its downsides perhaps in terms of the US and Australia having different mission objectives and the possibility Australia may not get the full feed.

Since the deployment of Global Hawk in the early 2000s considerable miniturisation of effective UAV sensors and computer processors has been achieved. This should permit medium sized UAVs to perform the long endurance ISR role that Australia needs. Hence the long delay in Australian acquiring mid-large sized UAVs might be beneficial in such UAVs developing into smaller scale, affordable, technology.

Australia has also considered, is, or will be considering, other (medium) UAVs including:

- the Mariner - a marine ISR version of the Reaper .

- the Boeing Phantom  Eye under early development, using an an advanced propeller engine, much longer planned range/endurance projected than Global Hawk.

- perhaps the stealth UAV Sentinel or a similar stealth UAV might be a future possibility, and

- several other medium UAVs under development in the US or planned by US corporations.

The Australia Force Posture Review is highly likely to further develop doctrine for the use of a (AIR 7000 Phase 1B) medium-large UAV - though just an incremental step in a long process to 2021. The Force Posture Review is due to release a public report in 2012.