Breakthrough in US view of purchasing Australian defence products

By Peter Roberts

I nearly missed this news myself – but the United States has quietly signalled that the one way traffic of sales of military equipment and technology from the US to Australia really has come to an end.

This has been going on so long – we buy American equipment and they show no interest in buying anything from us, no matter how good – that a recent statement by the US Air Force secretary, Frank Kendall really comes a shock.

He has reportedly said the USAF could use the Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat drone developed by Boeing Australia and Australian industry, for its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programme.

Kendall said the US and Australia were ‘having preliminary discussions’ about buying the MQ-28 “as a risk reduction mechanism” for US drone development.

Kendall said: “I think there’s a lot of mutual interest in working together. And we’re going to be sorting out the details over the next few weeks.”

The stealth drone, previously known as the ‘Loyal Wingman’, was developed under a $115 million RAAF contract to produce and trial six prototype aircraft, with series manufacture destined for Boeing’s first overseas production line to be built in Toowoomba, Queensland.

That the US would seek to reduce its own risk in developing drones to accompany new generation jet aircraft into battle – extending their surveillance gathering and attack radius – by selecting a foreign design is a massive change in policy.

It wasn’t long ago that the US bought absolutely no defence kit from Australia.

The story goes that it was former Australian defence minister and then Australian ambassador to Washington, Kim Beazley, who did some straight talking and broke the American drought.

Asked what Australia could realistically provide, he replied – the Nulka active missile decoy (pictured, below) that broadcasts fake signals that lure away incoming sea-skimming missiles attacking naval ships.

The anti-missile decoy which is made by prime contractor BAE Systems Australia has since been installed on more than 150 Australian, US and Canadian warships, including the US’s latest mega-aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford.

BAE Systems Australia also supplies the autonomous flight control and navigation systems on the MQ-28, as well as launch sequence software for the Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) manufactured in various locations for the US and other NATO countries.

In fact, Australian defence equipment has become increasingly seen in US inventories since Beazley’s intervention – including Austal ships in the US Navy and Electro Optic Systems remote weapons stations in the army, though both companies manufacture in the United States as well as Australia.

But the US buying an Australian technology? That’s a whole different ball game as they say.

And it does suggest that the Aukus agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States is not just going to be a one way flow of foreign technology into Australia.

Australia has, for example, advanced technologies in hypersonic flight among other things.

While Scott Morrison’s reputation is being dragged through the mud, Aukus which in some quarters has been seen as mere sloganeering, might just turn out to be something really ground-breaking indeed.

Picture: Boeing Australia/Ghost Bat takes off from Woomera/BAE Systems Australia/Nulka in flight

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