Maritime Reconnaissance

SYDNEY, February 15, 2014 (AFP) – Australia plans to buy seven giant unmanned drones for Aus$3 billion (US$2.7 billion), potentially to help patrol its borders, a report said on Saturday. The use of large unmanned aircraft patrolling the nation’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.

Halting the flood of asylum-seeker boats arriving in Australia’s north has been a key policy of the Tony Abbott-led government since it was elected last year.

Its hardline stance on people-smuggling has proved successful, with no boats arriving for nearly two months.

But it has been received coolly in Jakarta, with tensions flaring last month when Australian ships made several inadvertent intrusions into Indonesian waters.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers have died attempting to make the perilous voyage from Indonesia to Australia on rickety and overcrowded fishing boats. The unmanned aircraft, with the wingspan of a 737 passenger je