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UV Pacific 2010: ADF looks to extend Heron contract

26th May 2010 - 6:46 by Darren Lake in Gold Coast

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has begun negotiations with Canadian company McDonald Dettweiler and Associates (MDA) to extend the service arrangement under which MDA is supplying the ADF with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability in Afghanistan.

Wing Commander David Riddel, the lead for project Nankeen, told the audience at UV Pacific on 26 May that the government had given approval to begin negotiations to potentially extend the mission out to 6 January 2013.

Under the agreement signed last year, MDA is supplying the service using leased IAI Heron UAVs that it leases as a service to the ADF on a similar basis to the agreement MDA has with the Canadian armed forces in Afghanistan. However, while Canada is looking at withdrawing from Afghanistan by the end of the year, the ADF is looking to continue its service with MDA – potentially even looking at the opportunity of taking up the Canadian tasking line.

Riddel said that Nankeen showed how effective a rapid, direct acquisition could be outside the normal rigors of Australia's defence capability plan. However, he said that when deciding on the system that it had been essential that the capability was already proven and had the 'minimum level of risk'.

The fact that MDA had already deployed the Heron to Kandahar with Canadian forces was, therefore, a significant boon. Riddel said that the ADF had been able to learn lessons from the Canadian experience and that it had been a two way street with Canada keen to fill in some of the gaps left from its rapid acquisition.

A key innovation of the Australian contract was the advanced Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination (PED) facility. Although Riddel would not go in to details of the PED it fuses the imagery of the UAV with geospatial imagery for near real time dissemination to ADF and International Security Assistance Force forces.

The MDA contract has allowed the ADF to deploy the capability with the minimum personnel including just those needed to operate the UAV and exploit the imagery. All maintenance and support of the Heron is conducted by MDA, which has between 15 and 20 personnel in theatre to support the two tasking lines. Currently the ADF is training for operations in Canada with Canadian forces although Riddel said that he hoped that training could be moved to Australia to better reflect the ADF's operational needs.

He concluded by offering up some of the lessons the ADF had learned from the acquisition and the subsequent five months of operations. Riddel stated that stakeholder engagement from the beginning of the acquisition process was key, as was risk management and acceptance. Additionally he said that it was also important to be flexible and allow for the delegation of responsibility.

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