Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said Friday at RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] Base Edinburgh in South Australia that the ministry had not yet decided between General Atomics' MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 variant used by the US Air Force or the MQ-9B Skyguardian used by the United Kingdom's military. He said initial deliveries were expected by 2021, and the drones would be in service by 2023, Defense News reported.
"An assessment was made between the various capabilities" of different vendors, and General Atomics was found to be the best fit, Pyne said. "And rather than going through a full tender process when we already know that this is the one that we want, we are adopting the single-source supply that is allowed under the [Australian Defense Organisation] First Principles Review."
With each drone costing about $23 million each, the total purchase will range close to $400 million for the fleet, the Sydney Morning Herald noted. Ground Control will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, and the drones will be operated by the RAAF.
"Reaper is going to be most likely used for supporting activities in the South Pacific,'' Malcolm Davis, a military expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the Herald. ''If you have the army going in from LHDs [landing helicopter docks], the Reaper can be forward deployed into air bases for ground operations ashore."
Earlier this year, Canberra announced it had bought six MQ-4 Triton UAVs from Northrop Grumman to monitor the South China Sea area. Spending a hefty $5.1 billion on the airliner-sized surveillance drones, Australia will receive them beginning in 2023, Sputnik reported.