Canned drones a ‘must have’ for bushfire surveillance

Canned drones a ‘must have’ for bushfire surveillance

03 March 2009

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The manufacturer of an unmanned surveillance aircraft says it will try to convince the Federal Government to change its mind about scrapping the Global Hawk drones project.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announced earlier today the Government will not go ahead with buying the drones because of timing issues and a delay in its delivery date.

The Federal Opposition has criticised the decision saying it appears to be a cost-cutting measure.

Both the company which makes the planes, Northrop Grumman, and the Opposition say the drones are highly valuable for bushfire surveillance.

“The aircraft flies at approximately 20 kilometres altitude and uses its three very advanced sensors to be able to effectively see through bushfire fronts and the spot fires as they develop,” Northrop Grumman’s Australia vice-president Ken Crowe said.

“It relays this in real-time down to the headquarters of the firefighters as necessary, it also provides very broad area communications coverage.”

He says the aircraft are also important for defence work.

Mr Crowe says there will be meetings with the Defence Department as soon as possible.

“We believe this capability is absolutely correct, absolutely right for Australia,” he said.

Opposition Defence spokesman David Johnston says Mr Fitzgibbon should not have scrapped the aircraft now, just before the Defence white paper is due.

“I want to see what exactly has happened,” he said.

“We’ve got 10 years’ worth of work on this project in partnership with the United States, and he’s just simply ruled a line through it at the stroke of a pen.

“I think he’s been completely done over by the national security committee – they’ve just said ‘we’re not doing it’ and he’s been unable to argue the position and I think its a mistake.”

Senator Johnston says Australia needs the drones because of their flexibility and capability, particularly with respect to bushfire monitoring.

“I actually think it would have gone on to have been able to provide evidence as to arson,” he said.

But Mr Fitzgibbon said introducing such an advanced aircraft at that time would clash with the RAAF’s planned take-up of a new manned surveillance aircraft.

He says he does not want to risk unmanageable workforce pressure being placed on Defence personnel as a result.

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