ANALYSIS: Australian Air Show Arrives at Pivotal Time

By Stew Magnuson
MQ-28 Ghost Bat

Boeing photo

MELBOURNE, Australia — Avalon — Australia’s premiere air show — kicks off Feb. 28 during a critical time as Indo-Pacific nations begin to coalesce on a grand strategy to push back on China’s aggressive military and diplomatic buildup in the region.

In its key defense strategy documents, the United States has declared China as its main pacing threat. In the coming weeks, Australia is expected to do the same as it releases its Defense Strategic Review. Late last year, Japan declared that it would be doubling its defense budget over the next 10 years.

Bilateral and multilateral partnerships in the region are being formed, most notably the AUKUS agreement for the United States and the United Kingdom to help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. That deal also includes promises for the three nations to cooperate on a host of emerging and cutting-edge technologies such as hypersonics, quantum sciences, robotics and others. Details on how the three nations will proceed with the program are expected sometime after mid-March.

Perhaps symbolic of the growing coalition against China, South Korea will for the first time send its Black Eagles display team to the air show.

While much of the world remains focused on Russia’s war of aggression against the Ukraine, the technology flowing to that conflict are today and yesterday’s weapons. In the coming years, billions will be flowing to and from nations like Australia and Japan to develop the weapon systems of tomorrow.

Contractors know this and are flocking to the air show after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2021 show. BAE Systems, for example, will be displaying its latest wares, but is also taking the opportunity to get started on recruiting some 6,500 workers it says it will need in the coming five years at its Australian facilities.

Organizers declared the air show a record breaker even before it began with 798 exhibitor companies, a 14 percent increase over the 2019 event, and 234 industry, government, defense and scientific delegations, 50 percent more than the previous event, a Feb. 24 statement said. There will be 59 conferences at the air show location near the city Geelong, and in Melbourne, it added.

That doesn’t include the numerous receptions and meetings taking place at chalets in the daytime and in Melbourne in the evenings, where undoubtedly partnerships will begin to be formed. “We look forward to a week that will highlight Australian companies to potential local and overseas customers and partners,” Avalon’s CEO Justin Giddings, said in the statement.

As for the U.S. delegation, 86 companies will be part of the USA section — 51 of them new to show — plus nine states, said a fact sheet supplied by Kallman Worldwide Inc., which organizes the pavilion.

Lockheed Martin will be featuring the F-35 joint strike fighter, which the Royal Australian Air Force flies and Northrop Grumman will showcase the Triton MQ-4C high-altitude, long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, which it is building for the RAAF in a cooperative program agreement.

Other U.S. aircraft expected are the F-15 Eagle, F/A-18F Super Hornet jet fighters, the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, P-8A Poseidon and the AH-64E Apache helicopter.

At the 2019 air show, Boeing’s Australian subsidiary unveiled what would be called the MQ-28 Ghost Bat uncrewed jet, the first aircraft to be developed on the continent since World War II.

The indigenously developed jet has since then undergone flight tests. However, as of press time, Boeing had only said that it will “publicly debut” the aircraft. A spokesperson had not answered inquiries as to whether that means its debut will be in flight or only on static display.


Topics: International

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