Australia to Spend Nearly $7 Billion Buying Unmanned Military Planes from America

The Turnbull government will spend nearly $7 billion on massive, long-range surveillance drones that will dramatically expand Australia’s ability to spot military ships on the seas of Asia and tighten joint operations with the United States in the region.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will on Tuesday announce the purchase of the country’s first Triton drone, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and will easily be able to complete a lap of the South China Sea after taking off from the Northern Territory.

Australia will work with the US on the drone program, and the RAAF’s eventual fleet of six Tritons will operate closely with the United States on shared missions as needed.

“Australia’s alliance with the US is our most important defence relationship, underpinned by strong co-operation in defence industry and capability development,” Mr Turnbull said in a statement.

“This co-operative program will strengthen our ability to to develop advanced capability and conduct joint military operations.”

Made by American defence giant Northrop Grumman, each aircraft can monitor an area the size of Switzerland – about 40,000 square kilometres – in a day.

Mr Turnbull will announce the decision alongside Defence Minister Marise Payne and Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne.

The six aircraft Mr Turnbull’s statement has flagged is one fewer than the original acquisition plan outlined in the 2016 Defence White Paper, which specified seven, though Fairfax Media has been told the government will still consider a seventh.

While they will be used to some extent for border protection, counter-piracy and to target illegal fishing, they are designed for scouring open seas at high altitudes and over long ranges, and therefore will likely spend most of their time carrying out surveillance missions throughout Asia.

The ageing P-3 Orion surveillance planes that the Tritons will partially replace have since the 1980s carried out surveillance flights over the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, both of which have seen a much heavier Chinese military presence in recent years.

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Source: Sydney Morning Herald, June 25 2018