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Army to introduce Innovaero OWL loitering munition in 2024

Defence industry journal Australian Defence Magazine reports that an unspecified Special Operations Unit of the Australian Army will put the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) first loitering munition – the Innovaero OWL – into service later this year.

The magazine’s report states that ADM understands this is the munition referred to by the Assistant Minister for Defence, Matt Thistlethwaite, at the 2024 ADM Congress in February this year in Canberra. The OWL – an acronym for One-Way Loitering has been in development since 2022 for the Army and is designed to integrate with other uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) being acquired by the ADF.

Innovaero, which is now partially owned by BAE Systems Australia, is based in Kardinya, Western Australia. EX2 reported in November 2022 that the company is developing the OWL under a contract of undisclosed value from Defence. The OWL has a range of around 200km, weighs around 30kg, is propelled by a battery-powered electric motor and uses a GPS-independent optical sensor to spot targets. It has a long-range datalink for over-the-horizon control and targeting, though can use an ordinary radio link for shorter operational ranges with an increase in loiter time.

The ADM web site reports that “Austender records show Innovaero has been awarded more than $5.3 million in Defence contracts since May 2022 to design, develop, build and test the aircraft. During the 2023 Avalon Airshow in March last year, company representatives told ADM Senior Correspondent Julian Kerr that a pre-production prototype would be displayed to Defence before the end of 2023, with a procurement decision to follow.

“ADM understands that this demonstration was successful, paving the way for the Owl to enter service this calendar year.

“The new system is expected to help the Army both mature its understanding of loitering munitions ahead of them being fielded more broadly across the force and provide a genuine loitering munitions capability to Special Operations Command (SOCOMD).

“Throughout the development process Innovaero has collaborated closely with Insitu Pacific, a Boeing subsidiary which is delivering the RQ-21 Integrator UAS to the Army, to maximise commonality between the two systems.”

EX2 understands that Insitu and Innovaero have developed an integrated capability using a common launcher, the Integrator’s pneumatic rail launcher. Essentially, the Integrator will be launched to detect and localise potential targets; if any are found the OWL will then be launched to engage.

As part of this collaboration, reports ADM, the two partners announced their intent to integrate the Owl with Insitu Pacific’s common ground control system and INEXA command and control software.

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