Patrick Durrant and Nigel Pittaway | Sydney & Paris
On Monday the US State Department approved a possible military sale to Australia of up to five Gulfstream G550 Aircraft with Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare (ISREW) mission systems at an estimated cost of US$1.3 billion.
The purchase under Project Air 555, was foreshadowed by the 2016 Defence White Paper which stated the aircraft would be acquired “to substantially enhance electronic warfare support to naval, air and land forces for operations in electromagnetic environments manipulated by hostile forces”.
The G550s would be the conductor of the orchestra, if you like, in an ISR sense
In December 2015, the US Defense Department had already awarded a US$93.6 million FMS contract to L-3 for the procurement and maintenance of the first two G550 aircraft for Australia. The ISR configuration work undertaken by L-3 in Texas was expected to be completed by the end of November this year. The Integrated Investment Program indicated the aircraft would be purchased in two tranches and upgraded incrementally to maintain commonality with US-developed systems.
In August 2016, Chief of Air Force AIRMSHL Leo Davies confirmed that unlike the other airborne assets, the G550s will be dedicated solely to the ISREW role and provide what he described as a “multiplying effect”.
Features of the G550 include an endurance of more than 15 hours, a cruise speed of 0.8 mach and a service ceiling of 51,000 feet, which ADM understands would provide a line of sight communications and signals intelligence (SIGINT) interception range of about 400 kilometres.
With such an acquisition, Australia will become one of two users of the G550 in the SIGINT role – the other being Israel which is generally regarded to be at the cutting edge of this capability.
CAF in early 2016 acknowledged that platforms including Wedgetail, Growler, Lightning II, Poseidon and Triton all had an ISR element but at that time there was no way to coordinate or orchestrate that ISR piece.
“The G550s would be the conductor of the orchestra, if you like, in an ISR sense,” he said.
The prime contractor for the acquisitions will be L-3, based in Greenville, Texas. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency release stated implementation of the proposed sale may require the assignment of up to six US contractor representatives to Australia.