Australian Islands New Home For US Drones?

The Washington Post reports that the Pentagon is looking at the Cocos (and Keeling) islands in the remote Indian Ocean as a possible new base for its Global Hawk unarmed/high-altitude drones. However, PM Julia Gillard says there’s been no progress on the matter since US president Obama was in Australia last November for an agreement to increase the US military presence.

Photo by Neil Lynch/USAF via Getty Images. Global Hawk provides US Air Force and joint battlefield commanders near-real-time, high-resolution, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery.

That agreement will see Australia host a rotation of up 2500 Marines and more US planes in the Northern Territory, along with increased access to Western Australian naval bases for US ships and submarines. After the US visit, the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith said the Cocos Islands could become part of the plan "down the track".

The US currently has an air and naval base on the even more remote British island territory of Diego Garcia, but, reports the Post, there’s little room to expand and the lease expires in 2016. In addition, the US is building a new version of the Global Hawk called the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance drone, which is expected to go online sometime in 2015.

The timing and early ministerial hints do make the Cocos Islands sound inevitable. Watching China and North Korea looks like the new top priority, especially with the latter planning to launch a satellite into orbit in April -- a move the US says is a veiled long-range missile test.

Back in WWII, two airstrips were built on the Cocos for Australian and Dutch bomber squadrons to run raids on Japanese targets in South East Asia. Then in the 1960s (after the islands were transfered to Australia), Qantas used them as an important refueling stop for its flights to and from South Africa. [Washington Post via SMH]

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