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ACT firm to provide bird-size drones for ADF disaster missions

written by Charbel Kadib | December 7, 2022

A Canberra-based company has won a deal to provide the Australian Army with bird-sized drones to help with disaster and humanitarian relief missions.

Elbit Systems of Australia’s (ELSA) agreement includes providing both the device itself, which has a range of 40 kilometres, and maintenance until 2030.

The Skylark I-LEX drone can beam back high-resolution video in real-time and is designed to be used for “in-theatre” operations by troops on the move.

ELSA’s managing director, Major General (ret’d) Paul McLachlan AO CSC, said the platform would enhance the Army’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability.


“This contract is great news for Elbit Systems of Australia as we gain momentum by broadening our offering to the ADF, as well as growth of our uncrewed and autonomous system capability being developed and used in country,” McLachlan said.

“Our Skylark I-LEX SUAS+ will reduce the risk to both Army and civilian personnel when operating in hazardous environments because of its superior intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.”

He added the SUAS capability could be enhanced by research and development (R&D) projects undertaken at ELSA’s Centre of Excellence for Human-Machine Teaming in Melbourne — established in partnership with the Victorian government.

The projects leverage human-machine teaming, artificial intelligence, drones and robotics for defence, emergency management and homeland security.

ELSA’s Skylark I-LEX SUAS contract follows a competitive tender process, which included preview tests and evaluation activities.

The Skylark has been deployed by a number of NATO forces over the past decades, with variants like the 18-hour endurance Skylark 3 Hybrid also selected by a number of international customers, including Israel, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, Hungary, and Poland.

ELSA is the latest defence company to secure a SUAS (Small Unmanned Aerial System) contract with the Department of Defence.

Earlier this month, the Department of Defence awarded a $26.9 million contract to XTEK Limited for the delivery of a mixed fleet of advanced AeroVironment drones over the second half of the 2023 financial year (FY23).

Scott Basham, XTEK’s group chief executive officer, welcomed the new contract, which he said would further build on the company’s growing project pipeline.

“XTEK is very pleased to be able to continue to provide Defence with high-end SUAS technology, and this new order for a mixed fleet of advanced AeroVironment drones will deliver significantly enhanced tactical reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities for Defence,” he said.

“This order, combined with the current backlog of technology division work that we expect to progressively deliver over the course of the next seven months, will already see XTEK achieve record turnover in excess of $82 million for FY23.

“And, on top of that, should we win even just a portion of the many large-scale ballistic armour opportunities we are currently pursuing around the world, then that could see the second half of FY23 become very exciting indeed.”

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