Monday, February 19, 2018

United States company still seeking pilots for Australian Defence Force surveillance role

An American company awarded a multi-million-dollar Australian Defence Force contract to provide aerial surveillance of the Pacific and which was supposed to start in early December is still trying to hire pilots for the job.

And the contract won by the Maryland-based Technology Service Corporation to conduct the surveillance has no special requirement to employ Australians.

The revelations are the latest issues to be associated with the controversial operation which is yet to fly one mission after the company’s sole surveillance plane, a Cessna 337, was stranded in the Federated States of Micronesia in December.

In an embarrassing incident, the stranding occurred when the plane was flown for a photo op for the Defence Department in December, leading Micronesia authorities to question whether it had the appropriate permits.

Despite the grounding, Defence Minister Marise Payne last month issued a press release touting the surveillance operation as having started.

Last week the Australian ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia, George Fraser, confirmed no surveillance flights had occurred.

The Australian has since found that Technology Service Corporation is still advertising for pilots for the operation.

The advertisement on the company website says TSC has immediate openings for pilots for civil fisheries enforcement maritime surveillance missions at locations in the central and western Pacific.

“Missions are planned and flown in accordance with air tasking orders received. TSC will provide training for the mission and aircraft operations,” it says.

The advertisement, which has also appeared on various US job-seeking internet sites, says the job is based out of Los Angeles. Among qualifications required is the need to hold a US passport.

TSC referred all media queries to the Australian Defence Force.

Defence, however, has repeatedly refused to explain exactly how the situation unfolded or what exactly are the permit issues that need to be sorted to enable the aircraft to depart the tiny island of Yap and fly to Palau to start operations.

A spokesman would only say that the program would be implemented through a phased approach and all “aviation and non-aviation establishment aspects of the program are progressing to schedule”.

He said all tenderers for the contract had been foreign companies or Australian subsidiaries of a foreign-owned parent company.

“The tender responses were rigorously assessed against mandatory Australian industry capability requirements and the Technology Service Corporation proposal offered the most robust and cost effective solution,” he said.

On Monday a spokesman for Senator Payne blamed the “implementation of new processes” for the situation relating to the surveillance.

“This includes regional test flights; assessment of up to 15 national airfields; developing and testing communications with the Forum Fisheries Agency and national patrol boat headquarters; and establishing maintenance and fuel supplies across the region,’’ he said.

“As noted in the release, these arrangements have commenced, with the implementation of the 30-year regional program progressing to schedule.

“This includes engagement with regional nations and the Forum Fisheries Agency, and a program of further flights across the region over the coming months.”

The comments came in response to calls from the opposition for an explanation into the delay, with Labor defence spokesman Richard Marles saying: “The minister needs to step up and tell Australians when these surveillance flights are going to start and how we’re going to get value from money from this contract.”

The program is supposed to work in conjunction with local patrol boats monitoring illegal fishing, smuggling and ship movements across millions of square kilometres of the central and western Pacific.

The aerial surveillance is under the operational control of the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) via an memorandum of understanding with the Australian Defence Force, which is also funding the service.

The area supposed to be under surveillance encompasses the exclusive economic zones of 15 member nations of the FFA.

The federal government’s official tender records state the Defence Department’s contract with Technology Service Corporation is worth $68,3888,590 and is to provide “security surveillance and detection” for the Pacific maritime security program from December 8, 2017 to December 7, 2023.

Technology Service Corporation website describes itself as “a high-technology company primarily engaged in providing engineering services to the US government”.

Original article ➤ https://www.theaustralian.com.au

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