The use of UAS by defence forces has been growing in pace as the technology improves and adapts at a rapid rate. The utility of drones is wide-ranging with applications in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
In a country such as Papua New Guinea (PNG), renown for its rugged and often inaccessible terrain, the drones are a game-changer, providing effects from beyond line of sight capability to safely and effectively supporting tasks ranging from humanitarian assistance to high-end warfighting.
At the request of the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), a small mobile training team from 20th Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment (20 STA Regt), Major Charles Phillips and Bombardier Paul Fiannaca, travelled to the northern PNG town of Wewak as part of the Australia-PNG Defence Cooperation Program. They trained members of Recon Platoon Second Royal Pacific Island Regiment (2 RPIR) using Commercial-Off-The-Shelf Mavic UAS to become the first qualified operators in the PNGDF.
“Our role was to guide and conduct airworthiness training, initial flight training and we supported the commencement of an operational evaluation,” MAJ Phillips said.
“This will allow CAPT Jonathan Kerenga, PNGDF, and members of the Recon Platoon, 2 RPIR to conduct a comprehensive trial of UAS for the PNGDF over the next 4 months.”
The training was also conducted in several areas of the East Sepik region of PNG and included flight operations at historic locations such as Cape Wom Memorial Park. Larger defence training areas were also utilised to provide PNG soldiers the chance to test the UAS capabilities.
“The bigger training areas gave the PNG soldiers the chance to ‘stretch their legs’ and see the game-changing advantages a UAS can offer. They successfully tested ranges out to 2.5 kilometres,” BDR Fiannaca said.
Major Phillips also observed that although the Australian soldiers’ ability to speak Tok Pisin was very limited, there was no language barrier that the enthusiasm of the PNG soldiers couldn't overcome and the training was very well received.
“The entire platoon gained their basic operator qualification within the first three days, allowing them to get a significant head start on the tactical employment and operational evaluation of the UAS,” Major Phillips said.
“Considering that the majority of the soldiers had never held a UAS before, let alone fly one, this was a significant milestone for the PNGDF,” MAJ Phillips added. “It was a real privilege for us to pass on our knowledge and expertise to such a committed group of soldiers.”
20 STA Regt hopes that using its expertise as the longest operators of UAS in the Army to build long term relationships will see increased opportunities to enhance PNGDF capabilities.