A six-year, $120 million lease extension that will see two IAI Heron surveillance UAVs remain in RAAF service until the introduction of the MQ-4C Triton from late this decade will ensure unmanned aircraft skills and corporate knowledge are maintained, Defence Minister Senator David Johnston has announced.
The RAAF currently operates three Herons, two based in Kandahar, Afghanistan and a third from the Woomera weapons range in South Australia, under a lease arrangement with Canadian firm McDonald, Detwiler and Associates. The Heron already at Woomera will be retained, to be joined by one of the two Afghanistan-based aircraft “later this year”.
“The additional Heron aircraft will provide greater opportunities for training, and the development of robust tactics, techniques and procedures for operating complex UAS platforms, as well as the integration into Australian airspace,” the Minister said in a statement released on Tuesday evening.
The approximately $120 million contract extension price-tag includes maintenance, logistics and training services and facilities upgrades at RAAF Base Amberley. The Minister’s statement says the contract extension “will be funded from within the existing Air Force budget, through a redistribution of tasks and priorities”.
“The retention of two Heron aircraft will help create a robust development program to ensure RAAF is well prepared for the government’s investment in the MQ-4C Triton,” Senator Johnston said.