Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced the Government will spend $7 billion on a new fleet of six unmanned MQ-4C Triton surveillance drones to monitor Australia’s coast and nearby seas.
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne told 9News that the drones have a range of 11,000 kilometres, can fly at 60,000 feet and are able to fly for more than a day at a time.
The first drone, which will cost $1.4 billion, will not be operational for another five years. The full fleet is expected to be deployed by 2025.
Pyne said the drones will cover the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, South China Sea and Southeast Asia, in addition to the Southern Ocean as far as Antarctica.
The drones will be used to detect foreign naval vessels, people smugglers and illegal fishermen.
“It is very important for us to know who is operating in our area and therefore be able to respond if necessary to any threats,” Pyne told ABC News.
“Australia insists on its right to be able to travel through the South China Sea in international waters as we have always done, whether that is with surface ships or with aircraft.”
According to ABC News, an agreement between Australia and the United States, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom means intelligence gathered by the Triton drones will be available to all five nations.
Australia will be working closely with the US in particular, with the drones expected to be used in shared missions once operational.
“Australia’s alliance with the US is our most important defence relationship, underpinned by strong co-operation in defence industry and capability development,” Turnbull said in a statement to Fairfax.
“This co-operative program will strengthen our ability to develop advanced capability and conduct joint military operations.”
Lead image: U.S. Navy