AVALON, Australia (Reuters) -BAE Systems Australia and another local manufacturer on Tuesday unveiled a new uncrewed military aircraft that will be designed, manufactured and armed in Australia.
The 2.6 meter by 4.5 meter (8.5 foot by 14.8 foot) STRIX uncrewed air system (UAS), launched at the Avalon Air Show, will be capable of air to ground strikes, surveillance and reconnaissance in “high-risk environments”.
Work on a prototype is under way, with operational service possible by 2026, said Ben Hudson, chief executive of BAE Systems Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company.
“We’re excited that this is the first UAS of its kind to be developed in Australia and look forward to working with partners across the country to deliver this capability to customers,” Hudson said.
Hudson told Reuters there was strong interest from two unnamed international customers. Asked whether the United States was one of the two, he said: “What I would say is that we need a fuller business case for something like this. And I mean the U.S. market is huge.”
Defence contractors are increasingly investing in autonomous technology as militaries look for cheaper and safer ways to maximise resources.
Boeing is designing the MQ-28 Ghost Bat, a fighter-like drone, alongside the Royal Australian Air Force. Announced in 2019, it was the first combat aircraft to be manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years.
BAE Systems Australia programme manager Natalie Waldie said the company has been in touch with the Australian Defence Force, although STRIX was not developed in response to tender.
Developed alongside Perth-based Innovaero, STRIX will be able to carry a payload of up to 160 kilogrammes (353 pounds) over 800 kilometres, and take off and land vertically. It can be stored in shipping containers.
BAE Systems Australia will also deliver a new low-cost precision-guided munition, known as RAZER, usable with STRIX.
(Reporting by Jamie Freed and Lewis Jackson. Editing by Gerry Doyle)