The Australian Department of Defence is to invest A$101m ($75.2m) in new small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The small UASs will be acquired in two tranches to boost ADF’s surveillance and reconnaissance capability.

As part of the first tranche, ADF will receive WASP AE micro air vehicles to meet an immediate need.

The AeroVironment-built drone has a flight endurance of 50 minutes and can be operated from a ground control system (GCS) with a communications range of 5km.

The Wasp AE can be operated manually or programmed for autonomous operation, by using the system’s advanced avionics and precise GPS navigation.

The drone’s EO/IR gimbal payload transmits advanced imagery in high wind conditions for mission effectiveness, AeroVironment stated.

Australian Minister for Defence Marise Payne said: "Similar systems, including the Skylark, have been used by our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq with tremendous success.

"They provide our military with a faster and better understanding of the battlefield than our adversaries."

The proposed investment is expected to create up to ten new jobs in Canberra, in addition to supporting dozens of jobs in the supply chain.

Australian Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne stated that the WASP AE will be modified with Australian content in collaboration with other companies such as Sentient in Melbourne and Mediaware in Canberra.

The second tranche will upgrade the WASP AE or acquire a replacement system within the next ten years.

Pyne said: "Upgrading or replacing the WASP AE will ensure our troops continue to have the latest technology available to keep them safe on the battlefield.”

"Defence will work closely with Australian industry through the Centre for Defence Industry Capability to maximise opportunities for local companies to get involved in this important project.”

Image: Australian Army soldiers with a Wasp AE small unmanned aircraft vehicle. Photo: Courtesy of Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence.