Royal Australian Air Force Turns to Business Jets for Special Missions
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) decision-makers have decided to convert corporate jets — Gulfstream G550 business jets, in fact — into modified surveillance, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare aircraft in support of defense operations. In an article for ABC News, reporter Andrew Greene says the modified jets are popular alternatives to the larger, specialized military aircraft because RAAF personnel can monitor and patrol large areas of airspace faster and at a lower cost. G550s also require fewer crew members to operate. Green explains that G550s are luxury corporate jets that can fly over 12,000 kilometers and 12 hours nonstop. They can be operated out of short-runway and high-altitude airports, which means they can be used as spy planes in remote and difficult locations.
The U.S. Department of Defense confirms the contract in a December 2015 statement. According to the statement, the Australian Government awarded L-3 Communications Mission Integration in Greenville, Texas, $93,632,287 for G550 aircraft procurement and maintenance in a 100% foreign-military sale agreement. While the exact modifications to be undertaken are unknown, according to The Manufacturer, the newly modified aircraft will likely be built around an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and put to use as early warning and patrol aircraft over Australia’s skies.
The use of the modern AESA radar allows for operation in a smaller business jet airframe. The technological advancements have further lowered costs and enabled more use of the AESA radars in retrofitted business jets. The completion of the project is set for the end of November 2017.
According to The Manufacturer article, the maritime surveillance aircraft previously used by the RAAF were Lockheed’s Orion four-engine turboprops, some of which may have had electronic intelligence capabilities that will be replaced by the G550s. These aging Orion aircraft will eventually be replaced by newer Boeing P-8A Poseidons, which are slated to begin arriving in Australia in 2017, as well as up to seven Northrop Grumman MQ-4C unmanned aircraft, according to an AINOnline article.
This isn’t the first time such aircraft have been put to military use. Aviation Week reports that modified G550 jets have already been in use by air forces in Singapore, Israel, Italy, and several other countries. Lockheed Martin is working with Bombardier on a proposal based on the Canadian company’s Global 6000 business jets as well.