Tue, Mar 05, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Firms vie for Australian surveillance contract

Reuters, AVALON, Australia

Major global defense contractors want to sell Australia on cutting-edge technology such as high-altitude, solar-electric powered drones and optionally crewed aircraft to keep an eye on the oceans.

Airbus SE, Leonardo SpA, Northrop Grumman Corp and Lockheed Martin Corp are among the companies that have expressed interest in providing the Australian Department of Home Affairs with such equipment, showcased at the Australian International Airshow last week.

The four companies said they have responded to a request for information issued late last year; the next step, after the Australian government responds, would be to submit proposals.

The final contracts could be worth several hundred million US dollars, depending on the scope, according to two industry sources who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The country is looking to replace 10 Bombardier Inc Dash 8 maritime patrol turboprop planes that began service more than a decade ago.

Australia has the world’s third-largest economic exclusion zone behind France and the US, and the world’s largest maritime search and rescue region, covering about 10 percent of the Earth’s surface.

Australia faces smuggling of people, drugs and weapons; illegal fishing; and search and rescue at sea, making it an ideal market for sophisticated aerial surveillance technology.

“What works for large merchant ships or naval formations may not work for a tiny wooden vessel moving at slow speed with no electronic signature,” said James Goldrick, a retired Royal Australian Navy rear admiral and former border protection commander.

Canberra aims to have all of the new equipment operating by 2024, the department said when it announced the request for information in late October last year.

A Home Affairs spokesman on Friday said that the government had received 67 responses from industry by the end of November and that no decision had been made on next steps.

Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, who oversees the Australian Border Force, said in October the contract would be a “very significant investment,” without providing further details.

An election is to be held by May and the opposition Labor Party is favored in polls, but Goldrick said he expected any incoming government would issue requests for proposals.

The Home Affairs contract would build on Australia’s military capabilities, including seven Boeing Co P-8A Poseidon submarine-hunting jets. Five more P-8As have been ordered.

Last year, Australia ordered six Northrop Grumman Triton maritime surveillance drones, which would cost A$6.9 billion (US$4.9 billion) in total, a person familiar with the transaction said.

Northrop Grumman is marketing its medium-altitude, long-endurance, optionally crewed Firebird aircraft as a way to compliment the larger and costlier Triton for the border security contract.

Firebird “could be tasked to go to very specific things if you want to keep an eye on a certain target of interest for a long period of time while Triton goes off and goes after the broader surveillance,” Doug Shaffer, the manager of the Triton program, told reporters.

France-based Airbus and Italy-based Leonardo are both marketing solutions based on the large amount of maritime surveillance equipment each company already has operating in their home markets.

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