Defence confirms acquisition of two ISR and EW Gulfstreams

Israel operates G550s modified for ELINT.

The Department of Defence has confirmed the acquisition of two Gulfstream G550 aircraft modified for surveillance and electronic warfare.

“The Australia Government entered into a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) arrangement through the United States Air Force for the procurement of two Gulfstream G550 aircraft,” a Department spokesperson told Australian Aviation via an emailed statement on Thursday.

“The aircraft will be modified to provide an airborne intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare (ISREW) capability to support ADF operations for Australia.”

The acquisition was revealed when the US Department of Defense announced a US$93.6 million FMS contract for the aircraft on December 28.

Information on the acquisition and the aircraft’s capabilities remain scant, but it seems probable the aircraft are being acquired to replace the ELINT capabilities of the RAAF’s AP-3C Orions, which in their maritime surveillance role are being replaced by the Boeing P-8A Poseidon later this decade.

“Further details on the capability will be provided in the Integrated Investment Program due for release this year with the Defence White Paper,” the Defence spokesperson said.

The acquisition was undertaken through Foreign Military Sales because the ISREW program and its interoperability with other defence capabilities is only available through the USAF. The two aircraft will cost USD $93.6 million.”

The original US DoD announcement was brief, noting that: “L-3 Communications Mission Integration, Greenville, Texas, has been awarded a $93,632,287 firm fixed-price undefinitised contract action task order (1648) for Australia Government G550 aircraft procurement and maintenance. Work will be performed at Greenville, Texas, and is expected to be complete by November 30, 2017.”

A number of special missions versions of Gulfstream’s family of corporate jets are in military service worldwide, with the Israeli Air Force, for example, operating SEMA ‘Special Electronic Missions Aircraft’ ELINT modified Gulfstream G550s.


  1. mick181 says

    Been an unusually busy Xmas/new year for defence procurement. It looks like we are going to order 3 more CH-47Fs and now these 2 G55o EW aircraft. Usually dead this time of year for procurement announcements.

    Good to see us getting these 2 aircraft, the RAAF is starting to get a real good allround EW capabilty. Though with only 2 aircraft training & servicing commitments will use up a lot of hours, could see a argument for more aircraft or at least 1-2 unmodified G550s for training.
    It will make a long term deployment difficult with only 1 aircaft left at home.

    While it is only replacing 2 EP-3s at least they had commonality with the rest of the Orion fleet. These aicraft will be complete orphans

  2. Raymond says

    Welcome news. Are E-7, EA-18G and G550 capabilities optimised for quite specific roles and complement each other, or is there some overlap? Although there are obvious differences with each platform, there appears to be mission similarities between ISR with the E-7 and G550, and EW with the EA-18G and G550.

    Also interesting to note that should the RAAF end up with 12 P-8, 6 or 7 MQ-4C and 2 G550, there will not only be a vast increase in capability but also an increase in airframe numbers compared to the AP-3C fleet which is fantastic.

    This purchase also provides some further food for thought, in that instead of converting two P-8’s like what was done with the AP-3C, a completely new aircraft type is being acquired.

    These are certainly great times for the RAAF and the ADF, with a lot of assets being replaced and new capabilities introduced. The security environment is becoming more complex and uncertain, and I can’t help feeling this (as well as a number of other pointers) indicates we’re getting ready for some potential undesirable events…

  3. Law says

    It’s all very interesting. Future designation maybe E-550 or E-50?

    “Welcome news. Are E-7, EA-18G and G550 capabilities optimised for quite specific roles and complement each other, or is there some overlap? Although there are obvious differences with each platform, there appears to be mission similarities between ISR with the E-7 and G550, and EW with the EA-18G and G550.”

    I think both statements are true. Each has a distinct core mission but each can function outside of that mission to varying degrees. It is very difficult to ascertain the precise capabilities on any of these platforms due to their nature.

    At its simplest; consider E-7, G550 and EA-18G as the ‘eyes’, ‘ears’ and ‘teeth’ respectively. The P-8 has elements of all three but with a very maritime focus and that really should remain its focus.

    If the end result is anything like the Israeli “Shavit” then it should be a fairly passive platform in nature. Effectively it is an airborne listening post, with the additional capability to disrupt/distort/deceive (but not damage) the opposition’s communications and overall ‘picture’ of the AO.

    Another distinction is that E-7 and P-8 have a large number of console operators on-board that disseminate information to act on directly. Because this aircraft is relatively benign in nature it will likely pack more equipment at the expense of fewer operators with a number of systems potentially controlled from ‘somewhere’ on the ground. More fuel and more gear to stay on station for a longer time would make this a very efficient and powerful little package.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a third comes along down the track.

  4. Rhino says

    Could this purchase also indicate the possible aircraft type to replace the aging Challenger 604’s operated by 34SQN? Also, does anyone know if any of the 2 x KC-30A’s on order will likely replace the BBJ’s?

  5. Jason says

    I bet Defence is pissed off at this coming out The project wasn’t published in the unclassified DCP for a reason.

  6. Jason says

    Law has pretty much hit the nail on the head with his “eyes, ears and teeth” description, and is correct that the P-8 (and the Triton) will have fairly substantial passive ESM capabilities as well.

    While on face value it may make sense to have a common type for the SPA mission, it’s unlikely the two fleets would be looked after by the same sustainment provider, so the commonality may be a false one.

  7. Raymond says

    Thanks Law, your ‘eyes, ears and teeth’ analogy is helpful.

    And yes, it’s quite possible a third example could follow once the platform is successfully inducted (and further funding becomes available).

  8. Raymond says

    Thanks Jason, do you know the latest release date for the oft-delayed DWP?

    And how did Defence expect to keep it secret when these purchases are documented in the public domain by the US Government?

    As for different types for maritime surveillance and EW instead of a common fleet, it’s usually best to have platforms that specialise in a mission rather than the ‘one size fits all’ multirole approach, so a dedicated ELINT aircraft in the form of these G550’s is nice.

    Also, do you know whether acquisition of the MQ-9 Reaper is expected to be authorised in the upcoming DWP? Eight are rumoured.

  9. mick181 says

    Also the sight of 2 G-550s in RAAF paint and sporting Kangaroo roundels would not go unnoticed for very long. The EP-3s went unnoticed for a while because they where hard to distinguish from the rest of the Orion fleet.

  10. Ron says

    While we’re all praising the aircraft & the welcome addition to ADF capabilities, I still think it’s a bit dodgy that we only found out about it second-hand the US. Our own Government didn’t make it public & has only now confirmed the absolute minimum after the news became known. Are they paying for them from cuts to the ABC budget or from cuts to Federal school funding?

  11. Jason says

    The White Paper doesn’t authorise projects, it’s just a strategic guidance document. Not sure when it will be released, budget time maybe? Not sure about the Reapers, but the next DCP should have more info.

    The Pentagon can keep contracts originating from various US agencies on the down-low if it needs to. Not sure why this slipped through.

    I doubt we’ll see a third platform, it’s a very specialised mission and other platforms (Wedgetail, P-8, Triton etc) are/will be capable of doing the lower-middle end ISREW missions.

  12. Raymond says

    mick181 – perhaps they weren’t to be delivered in RAAF livery…

    Ron – as mentioned, the purchase may have been intended to be kept under wraps, at least for now. There’s usually a good reason, such as in the national interest. As for questioning defence funding, I hope you never require the services of the ADF. For less than USD$100 million, this is a modest buy anyway.

    Peter – thanks.

    Jason – thanks again.

  13. says

    Actually 34 Squadrons Challenger 604 3 Airframes are well overdue for replacement , as they are now 12 years old and the two Boeing 737BBJ lease has also expired, so a smart move for commonality would be to replace the Challenger’s with Three to 4 Gulfstream G550 aircraft, giving commonality from a maintenance point of view with the two new ELINT aircraft, perhaps giving the two ELINT airframes to 34 Squadron from a maintenance point of view , although under the management/operational control of 2 Squadron with the Boeing E-7 at RAAF Williamtown. A second hand G550 would cost about US $34M. Perhaps then either upgrading the Boeing 737BBJ to more modern airframes or acquiring another A330 in solely a Passenger Air Evacuation role based with 33 Squadron KC30A