"G'day, mate! You wouldn't happen to have a few sub-hunting airplanes we could throw on the barbie, now, would you?"
I doubt that's exactly how Australia phrased its recent request to the U.S. government, when it asked for a price quote on some new drones for the Royal Australian Air Force. But that's at least the upshot. Last week, on the occasion of the publication of its 2013-14 defense budget, Australia's ministers for defense and defense materiel issued a joint announcement, confirming that they have sent an official letter of request to the United States seeking "detailed cost, capability, and availability information on the United States Navy's MQ-4C Triton unmanned Aircraft."
The Triton, for those not aware, is a new maritime version of Northrop Grumman's (NYSE:NOC) famed Global Hawk robotic spyplane -- a 48-foot robotic superplane that stretches 131 feet wingtip to wingtip and that can fly at altitudes as high as 60,000 feet, go as far as 12,300 miles without refueling, and remain airborne for 32 hours or more.
Australia is looking into the plane as one-half of a two-part plan to replace its fleet of venerable Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) AP-3C Orion subhunting aircraft with more modern aircraft. Australia's looking into picking up some of the new and improved P-8A Poseidons that Boeing (NYSE:BA) is building, for one thing. But it also thinks that Northrop's MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System could provide an invaluable unmanned component to its maritime surveillance forces.
For the time being, Australia's just window-shopping. But with your average Poseidon costing buyers close to $200 million, including parts and service, that part of Australia's defense budget alone offers the potential for a big sales boost for Boeing.
And Northrop? Pricing data isn't easy to find on the new plane just yet, but judging from published prices of the various RQ-4 Global Hawk variants out there, which range from the mid-$40 millions to as high as $80 million, the revenue opportunity for Northrop is no "shrimp" either -- on the barbie or off.