The federal government will spend $101 million on the first tranche of a program to boost the battlefield surveillance capabilities of the Australian Defence Force through diminutive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The government will purchase WASP AE ‘micro air vehicles’ for battlefield use. The small unmanned systems can be carried, assembled and used by a single person, the government said.
“Similar systems, including the Skylark, have been used by our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq with tremendous success,” defence minister Senator Marise Payne said.
“They provide our military with a faster and better understanding of the battlefield than our adversaries.”
The AeroVironment-manufactured drone can be controlled from up to five kilometres away by an operator and offers flight endurance of 50 minutes. It has a 102 cm wingspan and weighs 1.3 kilograms, and it can fly at an altitude of 152 metres.
The drones will be fitted with software and content from Australian companies including Melbourne-based Sentient and Canberra’s Mediaware.
Canberra-based company XTEK will be responsible for the majority of maintenance and support.
“Upgrading or replacing the WASP AE will ensure our troops continue to have the latest technology available to keep them safe on the battlefield,” defence industry minister Christopher Pyne said.
The Department of Defence’s 2016 Integrated Investment Program foreshadowed the purchase of “new and enhanced unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities”.
Earlier this month Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee issued an urgent call to strengthen the regulations governing civilian use of remotely piloted and unmanned drones
The committee revealed it had written to infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester calling for action in a number of areas, including compulsory training for drone operators and a drone registration program.