Australia invests $579 million in Antarctica surveillance

Sydney, Australia, Feb 22 (EFE).- The Australian government announced on Tuesday an investment of AU$804.4 million ($579 million) for projects such as drone surveillance of inner Antarctica, an area in which China has expanded its activities and presence.

Canberra’s investment over the next 10 years, which includes the establishment of mobile stations on the frozen continent, is part of the strategic and scientific expansion plans to reinforce its leadership in Antarctica.

“The money we are investing in drone fleets, helicopters and other vehicles will enable us to explore areas of East Antarctica’s inland that no country has ever been able to reach before,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.

Australia has three research bases along the coast, where there is easy access for site inspections to ensure compliance with a treaty banning military activity and mining, but China has bases further inland where access is difficult.

The fund will also serve to support scientific expeditions to the hard-to-reach interior of Antarctica – where Australia claims 42 percent of the territory – for charting activities, to support the protection of the environment, among other strategic and scientific projects.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the package of measures will improve the scientific capacity of her country and it needs to “ensure that the Antarctic remains a place of science and conservation, one that is free from conflict and which is protected from exploitation.”

Antarctic strategy expert Elizabeth Buchanan from Deakin University told public broadcaster ABC that the investment in drones, which have both military and civilian research applications, “clearly signals Canberra’s move into the grey zone of dual-use technologies – a space in which Russia and China are well versed.”

“While it is easy enough for Australia to smack ‘science’ on drone policies, making use permissible in Antarctica, this may embolden Russia and China to enhance their own dual-use technologies – an arms race of dual-use capabilities, if you will.” EFE


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