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Australia scraps MQ-9B SkyGuardian project

The Australian government has cancelled its Project Air 7003, which was set to acquire 12–16 MQ-9B UAVs to bolster the country's ISR capabilities. (General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc)

Australia has scrapped its Project Air 7003, a multimillion-dollar programme, which was conceived to strengthen the country's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities across land and maritime environments.

The USD1.3 billion programme was on schedule to deliver 12–16 armed, medium-altitude, long-endurance MQ-9B SkyGuardians to Australia. The aircraft were to have been in service by the mid-2020s.

On 1 April, Matt Yannopoulos, associate secretary of the Department of Defence (DoD), informed the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade Legislation Committee about the project's cancellation.

As part of Australia's Integrated Investment Program (IIP), Project AIR 7003 Phase 1 was to give the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) a ‘combination' of capabilities, including persistent airborne ISR, electronic warfare, and close-range precision strike capability across land and sea.

A DoD official told the committee that “approximately AUD10 million [USD7.4 million] had been spent on the project before its cancellation”.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI), which manufactures the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, confirmed the cancellation of the programme.

In a statement, David R Alexander, president of GA-ASI, described the move as “disappointing for a number of reasons”. He added that the decision comes after “nearly a decade of efforts toward the acquisition programme”.

Speaking to Janes , a DoD spokesperson said that the decision was made based on the need to prioritise cyber security.

“Defence can adjust and reprioritise the Integrated Investment Program for new and emerging priorities. Based on advice from defence, the government has decided to not proceed with Project Air,” the spokesperson added.

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