SkyGuardian scrapped to fund cyber warfare upgrade

The federal government has announced the cancellation of the planned purchase of the SkyGuardian long endurance armed unmanned aerial system (UAS) to allow for a boost to the Australian Defence Force’s cyber capabilities.

Defence associate secretary Matt Yannopoulos told Senate estimates that the purchase of the General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian (pictured) under project AIR 7003 would be cancelled, with funds directed to cyber security.

The US State Department had approved Australia’s purchase of 12 SkyGuardian air vehicles, along with radars communications systems and sensors, with the cancellation a blow to Australian industry involved in the supply and maintenance of the UAS.

However industry will benefit in future through enhanced abilities to counter cyber threats.

Defence minister Peter Dutton revealed a $9.9 billion investment over the next decade in new national cyber and intelligence capabilities.

The government’s Project REDSPICE (Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber, and Enablers) will boost ASD’s offensive cyber capabilities, ability to detect and respond to cyber-attacks, and introduce new capabilities.

The programme aims to double create 1,900 new jobs including at the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) over the next four years.

Dutton said: “This investment in ASD recognises the deteriorating strategic circumstances in our region, characterised by rapid military expansion, growing coercive behaviour and increased cyber-attacks.

“It acknowledges the nature of conflict has changed, with cyber-attacks now commonly preceding other forms of military intervention – most recently demonstrated by offensive cyber activity against Ukraine.”

Picture: Defence SA

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