Remember those plans to buy a few drones for surveillance operations in Australia? Turns out it's happening! According to an announcement made by Prime Minister Drony Abbott (pictured) yesterday, Adelaide will be the home of Australia's drone fleet. Wait, Adelaide? What's up with that?
Australia is in the often unfortunate position of being located approximately on the bottom of the world. That means the asylum seeker boats these drones would be patrolling for would be detected and tracked North and North-West of of Australia, right? You know, seeing as how they primarily come down from Asia. So what's the benefit of having a $3 billion drone fleet operating out of a base on the bottom of the goddamn country. You literally couldn't base them further away from where they're meant to be patrolling without installing an air base in the Australian-controlled zone of Antarctica (which is actually illegal due to a few important non-militarisation treaties).
The Northrop Grumman's MQ-4C is capable of spending 30 hours in the air thanks to its monstrous wing-span. That's probably a good thing, considering it takes a much faster commercial airliner around three hours to make the trek between Adelaide and Darwin.
Could it be that South Australia is staring down the barrel of a State Election which the Abbott government needs to win to secure wall-to-wall Liberal and Coalition state governments across the nation? Probably. The project creates 100 jobs in Adelaide, and creating jobs is a sure-fire vote winner for conservatives who want to be seen as nation builders.
Or, perhaps the Prime Minister misspoke when he announced the plan for the drones to be based on the outskirts of Adelaide. Maybe the drones themselves will be moved to Darwin after a little bit, while the operators stay in Adelaide. Either way, it's shady, and slightly unexpected, especially given that the Minister for Defence, David Johnston, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal recently that he expected them to be based in Darwin, where it makes sense.
To quote the Minister:
Something that can leave Darwin and do a couple of laps of Sri Lanka and come home again—that is exactly what we need.
It’s undeniable that that capacity, up at about 55,000 feet…is right in the place that we need to pay attention to. It’s almost a no brainer.
Defence SA says that it has been lobbying for the gig for some time now, and maybe it was the fact that it made sense to award it to them, or maybe it's a last minute land-grab for Coalition votes going into Saturday's election.
The US knows that the best place to put Global Hawk surveillance drones is in the ocean off the North West coast of Australia, nearby the controversial Manus Island detention centre where we're keeping all the asylum seekers that hit the Navy's net on the way to a what they thought would be a better life.
Either way, Australia is going to have a $3 billion Triton surveillance drone fleet, and if that doesn't scare you, not much else will.