This article was updated 5 May.
Defence has selected the Schiebel S-100 Camcopter uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) to undergo a single source procurement process for the initial block of a $1.3 billion three-block maritime uncrewed aircraft systems (MUAS) program for the RAN, a ministerial spokesperson confirmed to ADM on 3 May.
The number of S-100s under consideration was not disclosed, although an unconfirmed media report referred to an initial procurement of 40.
Proposed by Raytheon Australia teaming with Schiebel Pacific, the S-100 was chosen for single source consideration without an open tender, from five shortlisted contenders. The move would advance the initial operating capability (IOC) by 18 months, the spokesperson said.
Although the anticipated IOC date was not disclosed, sources pointed out that prior to contract signature the Raytheon-Schiebel proposal must now undergo a full evaluation to ensure it meets all requirements and provides value for money. This could take six months.
The four other contenders comprised Insitu Pacific offering its Scan Eagle/Integrator family, Northrop Grumman teaming with Leonardo with the AWHero, Textron with the Aerosonde V4/HQ system, and BAE Systems with an undisclosed air vehicle.
Block One of Sea 129 Phase 5 is the first phase of a 30-year continuous improvement program to provide unmanned intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting capabilities, with five-year rolling block upgrades that will incorporate new technology,.
Block One will run from 2024 – or possibly earlier – to 2028 and provide an MUAS capability to be embarked on the RAN’s eight in-service Anzac-class frigates and 12 Arafura-class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), the first of which will be commissioned in 2023.
The Block Two requirement, running from 2029 to 2033, will refresh the OPV capability and equip the RAN’s nine Hunter-class future frigates as well as being capable of deployment on other ship classes.
Block Three, scheduled from 2034 to 2038, will involve a comprehensive update and refresh of the MUAS to accommodate new payloads and other capability enhancements.
Schiebel delivered three S-100s to the RAN in 2018 under Navy Minor Project 1942 to provide an interim shipborne vertical takeoff and landing capability. All three were subsequently upgraded with heavy-fuel S-2 engines. The contract was extended for three years in July 2021 to enable test and evaluation with the RAN’s 822X Squadron to continue. This has now covered more than 500 hours.
Schiebel released a press statement responding to the decision on 4 May.
"Schiebel Pacific welcomes the decision of the Commonwealth of Australia to speed up the provision of its UAS capability by initiating a single source acquisition of the Camcopter S-100," the company said. "This will enable the RAN to accelerate the capability acquisition they need and together with our local partners, we are committed to deliver the best UAS solution for the RAN.
"The offered Maritime Uncrewed Aircraft System (MUAS) builds on the capability that has been provided by the proven Camcopter S-100 air vehicle currently in service with the RAN and is expected to create about 100 new Australian jobs.
"The design, development, manufacture, integration and support of the system will all be undertaken in Australia."