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Australia issues RfI for new SUAS

25th August 2021 - 21:55 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Christchurch

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Project Land 129 Phase 4B will find a replacement for the Wasp AE SUAS serving with the Australian Army. (ADF)

Australia begins its tender process to find a new man-portable UAV.

As predicted last month by the Capability Acquisition & Sustainment Group (CASG), Australia issued an RfI on 25 August concerning a new small unmanned aerial system (SUAS) for the Australian Army.

The system’s primary purpose is to provide ISR support via near real-time video and still images, for the combat team commander by day or night, the RfI explained. In effect, the SUAS will ‘provide an over the hill, down the road and around the corner reconnaissance capability’.

Labelled Project Land 129 Phase 4B, this programme will replace 65 in-service AeroVironment Wasp AEs procured from 2017-21 and which will be retired in 2024. That contract had followed the acquisition of 14 Wasp AE UAVs in 2015 as part of Army Minor Project 024.32 to help develop doctrine, tactics and procedures.

One notable difference to the advance notice issued in July was that the acquisition period had been pushed back a year to FY2024-26.

These SUAS will be disbursed to army manoeuvre brigades, the Special Operations Command and the Army Reserve. It should be man-portable by two soldiers and operable by a single person.

The SUAS should operate in littoral regions, which may include urbanised and densely vegetated areas or even from a small boat. They should assist a combat team in making a quick attack, or perhaps to aid counter-fire, adjust fire against an enemy or perform battle damage assessment.

Each SUAS will comprise an aerial vehicle, payload, ground control station, remote viewing terminal (outside the scope of this programme), operational support equipment and training support equipment.

The military considers a 7km range as ‘very important’ and 10km as ‘important’. By the same token, an endurance of 45 minutes and 60 minutes are considered ‘very important’ and ‘important’, respectively. Its endurance speed should be at least 25kt, though 50kt is deemed ‘important’.

The RfI highlighted encountered limitations with the Wasp AE. These were: the time to set up and capture GPS data; image quality and gimbal stability; a high rate of damage in launch/recovery; and large cleared areas required for launch.

The RfI did not specify either a fixed-wing or VTOL solution. Nor did it state the quantity of SUAS required. However, last month’s advance notice suggested 60-80 systems were needed.

Responses to the RfI, due by 29 September, will shape a forthcoming RfT expected to be issued in early 2022. Government approval to proceed with the acquisition from a single supplier should occur in mid-2023.

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