Saturday, February 23, 2013

$2bn Triton drone plan to track asylum boats off Australia

AUSTRALIA is set to sign up for $2 billion worth of unmanned spy planes able to detect small, wooden people-smuggling boats.
The Federal Government will send a letter of request for possible access to the United States Navy's development program for a high-flying, long-range pilotless aircraft called the Triton.
Once it detects a timber vessel it will be able to photograph the intruder or pass the information through secure military links to other aircraft or ships in the area.
Australia has a serious gap in its defence against timber refugee boats because over-the-horizon radar can't pick them up and current ship and aircraft radars have limited range.
It is understood that the Triton can detect every type of suspected illegal entry vessel that has made it to Australia so far.
The letter requesting a possible foreign military sale will be signed at the Australian International Air show at Avalon next week by Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
The USN is about to test its first Triton and it has 68 on order, the first due in service in 2015.
Australia will spend between $2 billion and $3 billion on the unmanned planes, which carry a powerful 360-degree radar and numerous other sensors, including infra-red and optical cameras and advanced target tracking systems.

Each jet-powered aircraft costs about $100 million, weighs 14.6 tonnes, has a 40m wingspan and can cruise up to 20,000m high for 28 hours or more.
The Australian version would compliment the new Boeing P-8 (737) manned maritime patrol jets that will replace the RAAF's ageing P-3 Orion aircraft.
Australian design elements are already included in the plane, including bigger and stronger wings, a more robust airframe and de-icing equipment so it can operate at lower altitudes in cloud.
Northrop's business development manager for the Triton program, Walt Kreitler, told News Limited that advanced communications technologies would also be fitted so that the Triton could "talk" to manned P-8 aircraft.
The Triton will be operated by a four-person ground crew and will be fully integrated with overall forces.
Mr Kreitler would not discuss potential targets, but he said he was confident it would cover the RAAF's "spectrum of targets".
The government is also expected to soon announce that it will spend at least $4 billion on another 24 Boeing Super Hornet jet fighters from the US Navy to prevent any air power capability gaps.

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