10 Mei 2014
MQ-9 Reaper (photo : USAF)
Air Force wants to buy deadly Reaper drones
The Chief of the Air Force says he would like Australia to buy armed Reaper drones – the kind used by the US to kill insurgents in Afghanistan and its neighbourhood – as soon as five years from now.
Air Marshal Geoff Brown has told Fairfax Media he is an enthusiast for unmanned planes, including the notorious Reaper – and its forerunner the Predator – that have been used to kill thousands of militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
The drones, which would likely cost at least $12 million each, are effective for surveillance but can also carry weapons such as Hellfire missiles. Air Marshal Brown, a former fighter pilot, said Australia would “definitely” acquire some sort of armed drones in the future.
“I’m a great fan of capabilities that have a very multi-role aspect to them, and I think Predator-Reaper does have that,” he said. “I think the combination of a good...[intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platform that’s weaponised is a pretty legitimate weapon system for Australia.”
MQ-4C Triton (photo : suasnews)
The Royal Australian Air Force has previously operated Israeli-made, unarmed Heron drones in Afghanistan and will get up to seven Triton maritime surveillance drones in the coming years.
But the purchase of Reapers would take Australia a significant step further forward into the drone era.
Declaring himself an “absolute fan” of the technology, Air Marshal Brown added: “I’d love to have Triton tomorrow…I’d certainly like to have Predator-Reaper capability as well, and I’d like to bring Heron back so we build on those skills that we’ve got.”
He declined to say under what scenarios Australia might use armed drones but stressed that they were well-suited to surveillance. They could be used for everything from spying on behalf of ground forces to helping fight bushfires and providing real-time information on natural disasters.
He added any purchase of Reapers would need to be considered by the forthcoming Force Structure Review – a blueprint of Defence’s future needs – but also said it could happen within five years.
Heron UAV (photo : Defense Update)
The Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency’s drone campaigns in the Middle East and South Asia have attracted controversy both in the region and in the US. Critics say the strikes have killed too many civilians and constitute remote-controlled killing often in areas that are not actually war zones. While the numbers are unclear, the US Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks media reports of drone strikes, says there were more than 1000 drone strikes in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2012. The bureau also says up to 4225 people including 1042 civilians have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Air Marshal Brown expressed frustration with what he called the “skewed” public perception about drones. “The collateral damage issues around UAVs are absolutely no different to manned aeroplanes,” he said. “In some respects…[they] are somewhat better.”
He said drone pilots usually had a better view and more time to consider their actions than pilots in the cockpit. “I don’t think the decision [to launch weapons] is any easier at all. I think it’s probably harder.”
The Reaper is a larger and more modern drone than the earlier Predator. According to Time magazine, a 2012 purchase of Reapers by the US government carried a price tag of more than $12.5 million per aircraft.
(Sidney Morning Herald)