Australian SkyGuardian drones shot down by feisty cybers

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Image: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The Australian government has canceled the SkyGuardian weaponized drone program for the Royal Australian Air Force. Funding is being diverted to the newly announced REDSPICE cybersecurity and intelligence program.

REDSPICE, the Resilience, Effects, Defense, Space, Intelligence, Cyber ​​and Enablers program, is a flagship component of the federal budget announced Tuesday.

The program aims to double the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) workforce over the next four years, creating some 1,900 new jobs. The total program budget is AU$9.9 billion over the next decade, boosting both offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

“This is the largest investment ever in Australia’s cyber-preparedness,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

However, in the Senate estimates on Friday, defense officials confirmed that this is little new money.

Out of the total of AU$9.9 billion, only AU$4.2 billion is budgeted to spend over the four-year forecast period to 2025-2026. And of that amount, only about AU$588.5 million is new funding.

Much of the existing funding will come from the now-cancelled project AIR 7003, a planned AU$1.3 billion program to develop an armed remotely piloted aircraft system.

In November 2019, the government had confirmed that the defense platform of choice was the General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian, a variant of the Predator B drone known in the UK as the Protector.

AIR 7003 was scheduled for government consideration in the current fiscal year 2021-2022.

According to Asia Pacific Defense Reporter, General Atomics had proposed developing a multinational service hub in Adelaide.

“The company has probably spent about $30 million on the project over the past decade and is unlikely to get a single cent back,” wrote editor Kym Bergmann.

“The scant information available indicates that Defense Secretary Peter Dutton has asked the Department to identify projects to be canceled in order to free up funds to hire more staff, particularly in support of the cybersecurity announcement.”

According to defense officials, approximately AU$10 million had been spent on AIR 7003 before it was cancelled.

The rest of the REDSPICE funding comes from other canceled projects. This includes approximately AU$3 billion in “both unapproved and approved” funding allocated to the now-cancelled Attack-class submarines, the SEA 1000 Future Submarine Program, and approximately AU$236 million for “an ICT remediation project centered on modernization and mobility.” “.

Funds also come from previously planned ASD projects that have now become part of REDSPICE.

Witnesses for estimates Friday morning were unable to shed any light on where the name REDSPICE came from.

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