Australian company Thomas Global Systems has won a multi-year supply contract for the US Apache helicopter program less than a year after securing a government grant to build onshore capability to help with the bid.
Victorian cable manufacturer Cablex — another beneficiary of a federal manufacturing grant last year — has also joined the program in what is the first time Australian companies have supplied Boeing with parts for the Apache helicopters.
It comes as the Albanese government locks in an agreement to get more local companies involved in its $4.3 billion acquisition of the helicopters and reveals a jump in local suppliers to the ambitious Ghost Bat program.
Thomas Global Systems, a Sydney and California based transport electronics manufacturer, on Wednesday announced it will supply US giant Boeing with cockpit avionics for the global fleet of AH-64E Apache helicopters.
The avionics will be designed and built in Thomas Global Systems’ expanded Western Sydney facilities for use in the Australian and international Apache fleets.
In 2021, the Boeing Apache Guardian was selected to replace Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter. The acquisition will run from 2025 to 2028, delivering 29 Apaches at an expected cost of $4.2 billion.
Apache helicopters have been deployed since 1986 and remain the primary attack helicopter of the US and several other nations, with Boeing in charge of manufacture since 1997.
In the lead up to last year’s election, the Morrison government announced it had finalised the investment in the acquisition and would buy 29 AH-64E Apaches helicopters for the Army.
A week later, Thomas Global Systems was awarded a $2.1 million grant from the government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative to “create onshore capability to develop and manufacture military avionics equipment for export into the global defence market”. The first delivery of an Apache to Australia is planned for 2026.
Thomas Global Systems revealed it had landed the multi-year Apache deal with Boeing at the Australian International Airshow, where the latest Defence technology was on display.
“This contract is an important vote of confidence in our company’s avionics engineering and advanced manufacturing capabilities,” Thomas Global Systems chief executive Angus Hutchinson said in a statement.
“The award demonstrates that we are globally competitive and are trusted to deliver critical flight deck technology into major US military programs.”
Founded in 1956, Thomas Global Systems has existing avionics supply contracts with several commercial airlines and military operators including the Royal New Zealand Air Force and US special mission platforms.
Cablex joins Thomas Global Systems as a parts supplier for the global fleet of Apaches, contributing cabling to the massive global program which sells to defence forces around the world.
For the Australian fleet of Apaches, four companies – Cablex, Ferra, Axiom Precision Manufacturing and Mincham – will supply wire harnesses, electrical panels, vertical spar box, machined parts, fairings and composites. Both Ferra and Cablex are part of the Boeing-led defence aerospace manufacturing network in Brisbane, which last year received a $34 million federal grant, also from the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.
Defence Industry minister Pat Conroy, also at the airshow, announced the government had signed an Australian Industry Capability Deed for the Apache Program with the Boeing Company to get even more suppliers involved.
The deed will underpin Australian industry contribution to the production and sustainment of the Apache fleet, bringing in millions to local defence companies, according to the minister.
“The AH-64E Apache helicopter will be equipped with some of the most advanced technologies, sensors and equipment to make it one of the most formidable helicopters at our disposal,” Mr Conroy said.
The MQ-28 Ghost Bat program has also seen a jump of 60 per cent more Australian suppliers since the first aircraft build, with more than 55 suppliers now contributing, he added.
The $600 million Ghost Bat program is developing 10 10 unmanned aircraft for the Australian government to test and evaluate.
“We’re very excited about the possibilities of partnering them with manned aircraft,” Mr Conroy said.
“That $600 million investment by the Australian government, in partnership with Boeing, has produced 400 jobs in Australia right now working on this advanced capability. And when I was in the United States in October last year, I can say to you the United States is really interested in the potential of this.
“They’re running their own program, but we’d be very interested in the opportunities to partner together.”
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