The association of Australian Certified UAV Operators Inc. (ACUO) has called for the establishment of a regional counter-unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) initiative led by the Australian Department of Defence as part of stepped up engagement with ASEAN and allied nations aimed at offsetting and overcoming a rapid global proliferation of threat systems.
The proposed initiative would include Australia hosting an annual international counter-UAS exercise at local weapons ranges, and launching of a domestic sourcing program for low cost representative threat aircraft.
The proposal is outlined in a submission by ACUO to the current Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee into current and prospective use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by the Australian Defence Force.
ACUO President Joe Urli says the proposal comes as an offset to the increasingly commonplace appearance of hostile unmanned aircraft at all levels of conflict around the world. “No future Australian Defence Force operation, whether tomorrow or ten years hence, can expect not to encounter threat UAS. Those threats could be as basic as consumer grade unmanned aircraft used to provide situational intelligence, or as sophisticated as low observable, high speed penetrating systems with weapons capability.
“There is a significant shortfall in international cooperation for the development of counter-UAS capabilities. There is just one major exercise hosted each year by the United States – Black Dart – with this having only limited opportunity for international engagement and participation given its focus on US-specific requirements.
ACUO envisages the counter-UAS initiative as a multiyear technical program which engages Australian defence, researchers, domestic industry and Australian and regional defence capability planners. Facets of the program would include doctrinal development, force gap analysis, detection, engagement strategies and tactics, and live fire experimentation.
“There is considerable scope for an initiative of this kind to be supported by a development program, resident with Australian industry, for sourcing of representative very low cost target systems meeting ADF and regional defence force research and training needs.
“The benefits that could flow to the ADF through an initiative of this kind are significant and deserve detailed consideration not only as part of the development process for the new Defence White Paper, but also in the context of ongoing operational and regional engagement measures.”
In parallel to the counter-UAS initiative, ACUO proposes Defence use its impending purchase of the MQ-4C ‘Triton’ version of the Northrop Grumman ‘Global Hawk’, and the existing ‘Heron’ UAS, as the basis for hosting new regional cooperation working groups, exploring how these systems can be cooperatively leveraged to support civil aid operations following regional disasters, and to combat enduring threats such as piracy and illegal fisheries.
Australia’s ‘Triton’ acquisition, expected to be approved by the Federal Government later this year, will make it the fourth operator of a ‘Global Hawk’ in the Asia Pacific region. The US Air Force currently operates RQ-4B configuration aircraft out of Guam, while South Korea has committed to purchase of four aircraft. Japan has confirmed it is also adopting the type and is expected to finalise a purchase order around the same time as Australia.
Australia is likewise one of four regional operators of the Israel Aerospace Industries ‘Heron’ UAS. India hosts one of the world’s largest fleets of this type and has more operational experience with it than any nation save Israel. South Korea is buying the same type for its Army while Singapore has had ‘Heron’ UAS in service for seven years.
“Australia has an opportunity to play a lead role in stepped up cooperative use of endurance UAS across the Asia-Pacific region in direct support of humanitarian purposes” says Urli.
“There is unprecedented opportunity inherent in such a cooperative initiative, with Australia having the geographic diversity and airspace available to host multiple user nations in ways not achievable elsewhere in the wider region. Australia’s endurance UAS acquisitions in this context can be developed as a positive regional resource, as these UAS systems help to foster regional solidarity against the worst of natural disasters and tempest”
ACUO’s recommendations to the Senate inquiry are contained in Submission Number 11, available here
ACUO submission is also available from the ACUO website