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Australia shortlists contenders for RAN's MUAS programme

Australia’s Department of Defence (DoD) has shortlisted five contenders for the first phase of a three-phase programme to acquire maritime unmanned aircraft systems (MUASs) for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

Acting Defence Minister Marise Payne announced in a 23 March statement that the shortlisted companies for Project Sea 129 Phase 5 comprise Insitu Pacific, Northrop Grumman Australia, Raytheon Australia, Textron Systems Australia, and BAE Systems Australia.

Although no air vehicles were mentioned in the statement, Textron is understood to be offering its Aerosonde V4/HQ system, Raytheon will team up with Schiebel Pacific for the Camcopter S-100, Insitu will offer its ScanEagle/Integrator family, Northrop Grumman will collaborate with Leonardo for the AWHero, while BAE Systems has yet to disclose what air vehicle it will be offering.

Despite media speculation, Saab Australia told Janes that this would not be the Saab Skeldar V-200B.

“This programme will acquire maritime unmanned intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting aircraft systems, which will complement current sensors and systems on [the] Navy’s ships, while boosting a ship’s area of surveillance,” noted Payne.

Up to AUD1.3 billion (USD975 million) will be invested in the programme.

‘Block One’ is the first phase of a 30-year continuous development programme, with five-year rolling block upgrades meant to incorporate new technology.

Running from 2024 to 2028, ‘Block One’ will provide the RAN with an operational MUAS capability to be embarked on its eight Anzac-class frigates and 12 Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), the first of which is scheduled to enter service in 2022.

As set out in an invitation to respond (ITR) released in August 2020, the block will focus on workforce growth, training system development, combat management systems integration, and payload development.

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