Defence Force considers unmanned aircraft

17:59, Sep 29 2009

The Defence Force is considering the use of remote-control drone planes to patrol New Zealand's waters, Defence Minister Wayne Mapp has confirmed.

Dr Mapp said the Defence Force was keeping a "watching brief" over the use of drones and that they may be considered in upcoming policy papers, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Army capability chief Colonel Phil Collett said the Defence Force was assessing unmanned drones "to find out what questions we should be asking to become an informed customer".

Drones were used by the United States Army to fire missiles in Iraq and Afghanistan, but could also send back video images used to monitor areas unsafe for access.

Their ability to spend up to 32 hours in the air meant New Zealand's Air Force could use drones to monitor domestic and neighbouring waters for illegal fishing boats and lost vessels, with a range as far as Southern Ocean around Antarctica, and the Pacific Islands.

The US Coastguard and Australian Government were also looking at using drones for sea patrols, Dr Mapp said.

Col Collett said the drones ranged from "global roaming aircraft that can stay in the air for days at a time, to the type of things soldiers might use to look over the hill in front of them".

The Army had developed its own hand-launched drone which was almost ready for "over the hill" use in battlegrounds, such as Afghanistan.