A controversial decision by former Defense Secretary Peter Dutton to authorize a multi-billion dollar purchase of reconnaissance drones, also used by Russia and China, is being “closely scrutinized” by the Albanian government, which has hinted it could eventually be scrapped.
- Schiebel is the Austrian company selected for the exclusive supply agreement
- It has also been criticized by human rights groups for supplying its unmanned aerial vehicles to Myanmar in apparent violation of EU sanctions.
- The Australian military is already using its S-100 camcopter technology
Schiebel, the Austrian company chosen for the exclusive supply deal, has also been accused by human rights groups of supplying its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Myanmar in apparent violation of EU sanctions.
The Australian military is already using S-100 Camcopter technology, with the recent order for a Maritime Tactical Unmanned Air System to provide “intelligence, reconnaissance and target acquisition” on the Navy’s Arafura-class offshore patrol boats and Anzac-class frigates .
The Austrian unarmed helicopter drones were selected by the Morrison government for Project SEA129 Phase 5 just days before the caretaker period for this year’s elections and after abandoning a competitive evaluation process that included competing American and British bids.
US defense giant Raytheon has been named “systems integrator” for Project SEA129 Phase 5, with the defense insisting the S-100 camcopter system is in international service.
“Defense has robust processes in place to ensure that no deployed platforms create vulnerabilities,” a Defense Department spokesman told ABC.
“In the case of the S-100, working with Raytheon Australia as Prime System Integrator, all relevant systems would be tested and approved to ensure an adequate level of protection was in place.”
Details of the Department of Defense’s deal with Schiebel and Raytheon are being kept top secret, but the overall deal is estimated at more than $1 billion.
In recent years, the S-100 camcopters have been purchased by the Chinese military for use on PLA Navy guided missile destroyers and licensed by Russia for civilian use.
A spokesman for Defense Industry Secretary Pat Conroy told ABC the federal government had “no plans” to immediately reconsider Mr Dutton’s initial decision, but has indicated the program could be subject to a broader defense review.
“There is still a long way to go in this process and subsequent government decisions will be carefully considered,” they said.
“The Defense Strategic Review will examine troop structure, retention and readiness, and investment priorities to ensure defense has the right capabilities to meet Australia’s strategic needs.”
Concerns about the Australian company’s ties to the Myanmar military
Earlier this year, activists from human rights groups claimed that Schiebel Corporation exported parts and training models for S-100 Camcopter drones to Myanmar’s military junta via Russia, in apparent violation of EU sanctions on the Asian nation.
According to the Justice for Myanmar group, Schiebel items were sent to Myanmar through its Russian partner OAO Gorzont, which manufactures Camcopter S-100 under license.
Independent Federal MP Zoe Daniel, an outspoken critic of Myanmar’s dictatorship, says the Schiebel drone deal with Australia underscores the need for open and transparent processes for defense contracts.
“The Myanmar junta is a brutal regime that subjects the people of Myanmar to abject oppression, violence and in some cases torture – and is holding an Australian in prison on political grounds,” she said.
“These UAVs or drones are used for surveillance and reconnaissance. They are likely to be used against civilians to monitor their activities and support military crackdowns on democratic activism.
“While Schiebel has justified his interactions with Myanmar, and I believe this whole murky deal since cutting ties with the Russian partner involved, proves one thing – that open tenders should be the norm for arms purchases. Sticking to the contract without transparency is pointlessly uncomfortable.”
Schiebel has in the past strenuously denied supplying UAV equipment to Myanmar’s military in violation of international sanctions, but the company has yet to respond to questions from the ABC about its Australian contract.
A Raytheon Australia spokesman referred all questions about the SEA129 Phase 5 project to the Department of Defense.