23 September 2022

Dutton's drones deal could be dumped

| Chris Johnson
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Schiebel S-100 Camcopter Unmanned Aircraft in flight at Jervis Bay airfield. The ADF is already using Schiebel equipment. Photo: Schiebel.

The Federal Government’s wide-ranging Defence review could result in the scrapping of a billion-dollar drone deal entered into by the Morrison government.

Former defence minister Peter Dutton controversially approved the contract to buy reconnaissance drones exclusively from Austrian military equipment manufacturer Schiebel.

Similar drones are used by China and Russia, while Schiebel has also had the human rights spotlight on it over the issue of drones supplied to Myanmar’s military junta.

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The ABC has reported that while there are no immediate plans to cancel the contract, the Albanese government has quietly flagged that the deal could be cut under the Defence Strategic Review

In August, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese MP and Defence Minister Richard Marles announced an independently led review to “examine force structure, force posture and preparedness, and investment prioritisation” to ensure Defence has the right capabilities to meet Australia’s growing strategic needs.

“This will ensure the Australian Defence Force is well positioned to meet the nation’s security challenges through to 2033 and beyond,” they stated when announcing the review.

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Former Defence minister Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, are leading the review and will deliver recommendations to the government early next year.

“In 2020, the Defence Strategic Update identified that changes in Australia’s strategic environment are accelerating more rapidly than predicted in the 2012 Force Posture Review,” Mr Marles said.

“This necessitates an immediate analysis of where and how Defence assets and personnel are best positioned to protect Australia and its national interests.

“It also requires an assessment of Defence’s force structure and Integrated Investment Program. Exploring how our capabilities can better integrate and operate with the United States, the United Kingdom, and other key partners will also be an important element of the review.”

Schiebel won the contract over bids from the UK and the US.

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Mr Dutton approved the drones deal just days before Scott Morrison called this year’s election and the caretaker period of government commenced.

The helicopter drones are earmarked for Project SEA129 Phase 5.

Federal independent MP Zoe Daniel and the human rights group Justice for Myanmar have both claimed Schiebel supplied Myanmar with military equipment via a Russian partner and in contravention of European Union and international sanctions – an allegation strenuously denied by the company.

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Tom Worthington4:04 pm 23 Sep 22

Schiebel make good drones, and would provide commonality with allies. But if the order had to be cancelled, there would be the opportunity to buy an Australian product. It is in drones, for land sea, and air, that Australia can get the most bang for buck in sovereign capability, not nuclear powered submarines.

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