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AUSSIE GAS GETS DRONE DEFENDERS

mariner.gifThe Australian government will start using American drones to keep watch over Oz's oil and natural gas reserves, CNN reports.Tens of billions of dollars in fossil fuels sits under Australia's Northwest Shelf, off of the country's western coast. But protecting the Shelf's vast array of pipelines and platforms has been a task that's beyond tricky. So Prime Minister John Howard's government has leased two U.S.-made pilotless planes -- the high-flying, long endurance Global Hawk and the Mariner, an ocean-going cousin of the Predator drone.The UAV trial will operate from Learmonth RAAF base near the West Australia town of Exmouth. But "mission control," the Herald-Sun observes, "will be 2700km away in Adelaide's northern suburbs, where a large support crew will be stationed at RAAF base Edinburgh."While no plans exist to arm the drones," the paper notes, "they are capable of firing killer Hellfire missiles, used to deadly effect by the US against al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan."The drone duo is just a first step for Howard's government, which "announced plans in February to spend up to $1 billion on 10 maritime surveillance UAVs," according to the Herald-Sun.THERE'S MORE: "Russias Emergency Situations Ministry has deployed Israeli-made unmanned aerial vehicles, each equipped with the same sensors the Israeli military uses to collect intelligence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip," according to Defense News. "The Aerostar UAV sold to Russia is designed for day and night flights of more than eight hours, at altitudes of up to 15,000 feet."

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