Australian Government to buy G550 jets for airborne surveillance

A modified G550 aircraft flown by the Singapore Air Force. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
A modified G550 aircraft flown by the Singapore Air Force. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The Australian Government will reportedly purchase a number of private business jets for use as airborne surveillance platforms upon modification.

According to reporting by the ABC, the air force will buy at least two G550 business jets produced by Gulfstream Aerospace.

These jets will themselves be converted to high-tech surveillance and reconnaissance platforms by US defence company L-3 Communications.

The deal to modify these jets has not been officially announced by the Australian Government, but rather came to light following the discovery of a statement on the US Department of Defense website.

“L-3 Communications Mission Integration, Greenville, Texas, has been awarded a $93,632,287 firm-fixed price undefinitised contract action task order (1648) for Australia Government G550 aircraft procurement and maintenance,” the statement read.

The statement went on to say that the contract would be “100% foreign military sales” to Australia. Furthermore, the date for the completion of the project was set for November 30, 2017.

Modified G550 jets have been very popular as a lower cost alternative to specialised military platforms. Already they are being used by the air forces of Singapore, Israel, Italy and several other countries.

So far it’s unknown exactly what modifications L-3 Communications will undertake, however if the Australian aircraft are similar to those operated by other countries, they will likely be built around an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

Such a craft would likely be put to use in an airborne early warning and control role, used to monitor and patrol large amounts of airspace.

P-3 Orion replacement

Given these capabilities, as well as the timing for the completion of the project, it is being speculated that these aircraft will go some way to replace the Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft currently being used by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

The RAAF is scheduled to remove these aircraft from service in 2018, to be replaced eventually by more advanced P8 Poseidon and Triton craft.

Concerns that these replacement craft may not arrive on time could have driven the RAAF to purchase the G550s as a stop-gap measure to fill a hole in the country’s defence capabilities.