Australia’s ‘Billion Dollar’ Reconnaissance Drones Are Also Used By China & Russia; Canberra Says Will Examine The Deal

At a time when maritime surveillance has become extremely important for Australia, its Defense Department was concerned by a reconnaissance drone purchased under the watch of the former Defense Minister Peter Dutton.

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The current government led by Anthony Albanese has indicated that it will seriously investigate the controversial decision made by previous defense minister Peter Dutton to authorize a billion-dollar purchase of spy drones.

One of the major reasons behind the concern and subsequent review is that these spy drones are also used by Russia and China – the two biggest adversaries of the West. The manufacturer of the drone is also accused of delivering these UAVs to Myanmar’s junta government in violation of EU sanctions.

The S-100 Camcopter, manufactured by Austrian company Schiebel, is already operational with the Royal Australian Navy. The most recent order includes a Maritime Tactical Unmanned Air System to offer “intelligence, reconnaissance, and targeting” on the Navy’s Arafura-class offshore patrol boats and Anzac-class frigates.

The Morrison administration chose the unarmed Austrian helicopter drones for Project SEA129 Phase 5 after forgoing a competitive evaluation procedure that included competing for American and British proposals. The decision was taken just days before the caretaker period for this year’s election.

The S-100 Camcopters were previously licensed by Russia for civilian use, but China’s military recently purchased them for use on the guided missile destroyers of the PLA-Navy.

With Defense Department claiming that the S-100 Camcopter system is in use internationally, US defense giant Raytheon has been chosen as the “system integrator” for Project SEA129 Phase 5.


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The Defense Department’s contract with Schiebel and Raytheon is closely guarded, but it is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion.

CAMCOPTER® S-100 - Schiebel
CAMCOPTER® S-100 – Schiebel

The Camcopter controversy is unsettling for the Australian defense, but it is not the first time that the new government has had to contend with controversies related to Peter Dutton.

Earlier, in June, Dutton revealed that he had devised a plan before the election to buy two American Virginia-class submarines by 2030, as previously reported by EurAsian Times.

The former Morrison government was also accused by France of blatant lies in the face of the termination of the submarine contract. However, there has now been a reset of ties between the erstwhile estranged partner under the leadership of Anthony Albanese.

The federal government had signaled that the Camcopter program might be canceled as part of a broader defense review, but there were no intentions to quickly revise Mr. Dutton’s initial decision, a spokesperson for Defense Industry Minister Pat Conroy told ABC.

S-100 Camcopter

The S-100 Camcopter is an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) with vertical take-off and landing capabilities. It needs no prepared area, supported launch, or recovery equipment. It operates day and night, under adverse weather conditions, with a range out to 200 km, both on land and at sea.

The S-100 can be flown directly using a pilot control unit or automatically using pre-programmed GPS waypoints. It has a straightforward point-and-click graphical user interface to plan and manage missions.

The camcopter allows real-time transmission of high-definition payload imagery to the control station.

The UAV can carry out its mission automatically in even the most complicated electromagnetic settings thanks to “fly-by-wire” technology managed by redundant flight computers. Its titanium and carbon fiber fuselage offers space for a variety of payload/durability combinations.

The S-100 is the only UAS in its class with the capacity to transport numerous sensors at once. With such a wide range of sensors, the CAMCOPTER® may significantly improve situational awareness for naval commanders and decision-makers by broadening their field of surveillance.

The S-100 UAS provides long-range real-time surveillance up to 200 km, meeting a variety of user needs. Field-tested mission planning and execution capabilities are provided by Schiebel’s ground-control user interface.

It enables quick integration with upper-tier command and control systems, including the processing and delivery of payload data, and it offers simple access.

The S-100 camcopter can carry out operations from a single ship or as part of a task force. According to Schiebel, it could become part of a manned-unmanned concept of conducting military operations to deter aggression.

On 17 various kinds of ships throughout all seven oceans, the S-100 has effectively demonstrated its maritime surveillance capability. Many navies’ long-term objectives are met by the S-100, as evidenced by the thousands of flying hours and take-offs and landings that have taken place.

Even the United States Navy conducted trials with the S-100 in August 2021. Schiebel and Areté showed the CAMCOPTER® S-100 and its capabilities, as well as Areté’s Pushbroom Imaging Lidar for Littoral Surveillance (PILLS) system, during a joint demonstration supported by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) on a commercial vessel off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.

As for Schiebel, it maintains that it last provided UAVs to a Russian commercial organization in 2015 for civilian use and has not done defense business with China since early 2015. The Russian client was not given access to any data or intellectual property.