Australia’s Defense Ministry recently stated that it would “carefully” review a billion-dollar purchase of reconnaissance drones from its previous minister, which has sparked widespread concern given that China and Russia have also used it—the West’s two main adversaries. Not to mention that the Austrian manufacturer of the spy drone, Schiebel, has been accused by human rights groups of supplying its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Myanmar’s junta government in apparent violation of European Union sanctions.

A Controversial Contract

Last week, current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stated that the controversial decision to award Schiebel the sole-source contract for the maritime Project SEA 129 Phase 5 would be thoroughly investigated. The previous administration allegedly hand-picked the Austrian company, subsequently scrapping its initial competitive evaluation process, in which rival American and British bids participated.

The US defense giant Raytheon has been appointed the “prime system integrator” for the maritime unmanned aerial system (UAS) program. Raytheon Australia would be responsible for “scrutinizing and approving” the appropriate level of protection of its S-100 Camcopter system.

Despite contract details being held, the deal between Schiebel and the Australian Defense Department has been estimated to be over $1 billion.

The Defense Department denied the billion-dollar contract on the first week of May, just days before the Albanese assumed office, saying that the price and the number of S-100 Camcopters to be purchased had yet to be determined. Its decision to choose Schiebel seems to be attributed to the short production timeline it offered, the then-spokesperson explained, claiming that it “could achieve initial operating capability (IOC) eighteen months ahead of schedule.”

Addressing security concerns, the spokesperson said that the department had done its “due diligence background checks” and noted that even though the platform is being operated in China and Russia, it has also been used by over sixteen international maritime organizations across the globe.

While the Camcopter controversy raised valid alarming bells for the Australian defense, according to news reports, the issue is not the first for the new administration to clean up related to the former defense minister. Barely a month after Albanese assumed office, the former official was revealed to have forged a Nuclear Submarine project under the AUKUS agreement, including the arms deal of American Virginia-class submarines and building eight more to increase the total strength to ten by 2030.