Sun, Feb 16, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Australia plans for drones to patrol its borders: report

AFP, SYDNEY

Australia plans to buy seven giant unmanned drones for A$3 billion (US$2.7 billion), potentially to help patrol its borders, a report said yesterday.

The unmanned aircraft, with the wingspan of a 737 passenger jet, would primarily be used by the Australian military for spotting enemy ships and planes in a conflict.

The drones could also be deployed to detect illegal fishermen and asylum seekers, who frequently enter Australian waters on rickety boats, usually setting sail from Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the Australian newspaper said.

The military are already heavily involved in the Australian conservative government’s ongoing Operation Sovereign Borders policy, which is turning back asylum seeker boats when safe to do so, a move that has angered Jakarta.

Australian Minister of Defense David Johnston would soon recommend to Cabinet that it pass approval to purchase the seven US-made MQ-4C Triton drones, which can patrol 40,000 square nautical miles (137,196 km2) in a single mission, the report said.

“As a maritime nation, a capability with this type of coverage must have our attention,” Johnston was quoted as saying.

“Accordingly, this government is interested in exploring cost-effective ways of re-engaging with this particular program and possibly bringing it back on board,” Johnston added.

The use of large unmanned aircraft patrolling Australia’s borders has been mulled for a decade, but the previous Labor government would not sign off on the concept as it reportedly believed the technology was not mature enough. The drones, if deployed over the next few years, would replace Australia’s current ageing fleet of P-3 Orion surveillance planes.

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