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Issue #1631      March 19, 2014

Abbott government’s $2.7bn drone plan

The Abbott government has approved plans to buy Triton drones to patrol Australia’s borders at a cost of $2.7 billion. The government claims the drones can help to prevent asylum seeker arrivals.

The fleet of giant, hi-tech drones will be used “to secure … ocean resources, including energy resources off northern Australia, and help to protect our borders,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, authorising the move last week.

Asylum seekers frequently attempt to enter the country from Indonesia and Sri Lanka on unsafe boats, which are turned back or sometimes sink offshore.

“They will provide the Australian Defence Force with unprecedented maritime surveillance capabilities, operating at altitudes up to 55,000 feet over extremely long ranges while remaining airborne for up to 33 hours,” Abbott said. The drones are to be based in Adelaide.

The drones are expected to be used to scan the Indian Ocean. The South and East China Seas are also considered flashpoints.

The Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are still under development by Northrop Grumman, and have a 40 metre wingspan – approximately the size of a small airliner. Drones have infrared sensors and optical cameras and a wide-ranging 360 degree radar, which can cover a distance from Sydney to London.

Patrol drone use has been on the agenda for some 10 years in Australia. The previous Labor government blocked their introduction, considering the technology to be too immature.

Abbott outlined his defence policy prior to the September 2013 election, stating his Liberal Party’s support for the introduction of Triton-type vehicles, saying it would closely consider the possibility.


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