The ADF is set to deploy its first Shadow 200 system before Christmas
December 05, 2011 by: Sean Parnell - The Australian
AUSTRALIA is preparing to launch the next generation of drones in Afghanistan, having already spent more than $300 million putting robotic spy planes in the air to keep watch on insurgents.
With Western forces still reliant on technology to gain the upper hand as they prepare Afghanistan for their exit, the Australian Defence Force is set to deploy its first Shadow 200 system before Christmas.
The American-designed system, comprising four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and launch and control equipment, arrived in Australia in August.
More than 40 army operators and maintenance personnel were sent to the US Training Battalion in Arizona a year ago to prepare and local training has commenced at the Enoggera Army Barracks in Brisbane. The US is already using the UAVs in Afghanistan. Shadow 200 will replace 16 ScanEagle UAVs expected to be withdrawn next year.
Defence will not say how many hours the Shadow 200 system will be in the air or whether, as has been speculated, it will be fitted with jamming equipment for improvised explosive devices. However, a second Shadow 200 system will be delivered in 2013, with Defence having spent only $27m of the project budget of $95m.
Documents obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information show the ScanEagles were in the air for 6804 hours in 2010-11, and 7568 hours the year before. They are used for about 1000 hours of training in the Brisbane Valley each year.
A Defence spokesman said the ScanEagle contract, with Insitu Pacific, had cost more than $140m since 2006. Another $23.5m is expected to be spent before the changeover is complete.
Australia also relies on the Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft in Afghanistan, operating them from the Kandahar airfield. Defence has paid MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates $138m over the past two years for the service and in July extended its contract until January 2013.
Defence requires the Herons to operate 18 hours a day, with a maximum flying-hour capacity of 550 hours per month, paying only for time spent in the air.
Three Herons are available in Afghanistan, with two able to be airborne at any time. A fourth is based at Woomera in South Australia for training and testing.
Between January and December last year, the Herons were in the air for 3431 hours. This year to early November they were in the air for 4293 hours.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute's director of operations and capability, Andrew Davies, said Defence had "scrambled" to provide adequate aerial surveillance in Afghanistan after the failure of a previous UAV project.