The Australian Army expects to begin the procurement for the replacement of its Textron RQ-7 Shadow 200 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) shortly with the declaration of Gate 1 in the contracting process and the beginning of acquisition effort.
The industry engagement paper was released in mid-February and under the timelines outlined in the programme, which is designated Land 129 Phase 3, risk mitigation and requirements setting in Gate 2 will occur up to 2021, followed by acquisition and initial operating capability in 2023/24 and service life through to 2033/34.
Two Shadow 200 systems have been in service for almost a decade with the 20th Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment, and the systems have entered obsolescence management. The replacement systems will be operated by the regiment and a third system will be introduced.
There are five core tasks for the new system: surveillance, target detection, targeting for enhanced lethality, intelligence support, and organic support, such as communications relay.
The replacement system will have a higher level of performance than Shadow 200 with a range out to 150 km and, most importantly, it will be runway independent. The platform will be required to carry a range of interchangeable payloads with some evaluation already done, such as for multispectral sensors, and synthetic aperture radar evaluation is expected to begin soon.
Laser targeting is essential in the new system along with integration with Joint Fires and Airbus Tiger attack helicopters and Boeing F/A-18 Hornet combat aircraft. The air vehicle will be integrated with improved Bushmaster vehicles and the ground control station will include an intelligence officer, the latter a change from the old system.
Following the Australian Army's success with Shadow 200, one official said they were looking for "a system like Shadow, but better".
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