28 Maret 2012
Gobal Hawk - high altitude longrange endurance HALE UAV (photo : DefenseIndustryDaily)
THE Cocos Islands' airfield would require a $75 million-$100 million upgrade before the territory could be used as a base for US drones, says Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
Amid heightened Chinese sensitivities over Australian-US military ties, Mr Smith played down the short-term prospects of using the Cocos Islands - a remote group of coral atolls and islands in the Indian Ocean - as a staging point for US spy flights.
Pentagon planners are considering basing Global Hawk drones and manned surveillance aircraft from the Cocos Islands - about 2750km northwest of Perth - to carry out patrols far out over the northern oceans.
Mr Smith said he and his US counterparts had agreed a “substantial infrastructure upgrade” was required before the Cocos Islands could be considered for use as a joint US-Australian base.
Cocos Island - small island in Hindian Ocean (image : GoogleMaps)
“My memory of the costing of that was somewhere between $75-$100 million. No-one is proposing that occur in the first instance or in the near future,” he said.
Mr Smith said the priorities for the deepened Australian-US military relationship were the deployment of US Marines in Darwin and the bedding down of arrangements for US use of Australian air and naval bases.
HMAS Stirling, in Perth, is reportedly being eyed by the US for use by aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines.
An initial 250 marines will arrive in Darwin in coming days - the first of 2500 to eventually be deployed in the Northern Territory.
Mr Smith said rotational arrangements for the force were being finalised between Australian and US officials.
The Greens said the Cocos Islands must not be used as a base for US drones.
“Surveillance may sound innocent enough to some, but the role of this base will be to make it even easier for the US military to strike and kill at will,” Greens defence spokesman Scott Ludlum said.
“If the past 40 years has taught us anything, it's that we must be wary of being complicit in these misadventures.
He said US attack drones had caused large numbers of civilian deaths.
“Are their spy drones any more reliable in identifying targets?”