The aircraft would be primarily used for military purposes such as spotting enemy ships and planes in a conflict, but they can also be used to detect asylum seekers since the drone can search an area of 40,000 square nautical miles in a single mission.

Defence Minister David Johnston would soon refer to the cabinet for its first pass approval of three billion dollars for the seven US made MQ-4C Triton, a maritime version of the Global Hawk.

Johnston also attacked the former Labour government for withdrawing from the unmanned aircraft programme in 2009 after spending 100 million dollars in the development of American company Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk drone programme.

"I was extremely disappointed," said the minister, quoted by an Australian newspaper.

According to the plan, the seven new drone would be deployed in a air force base close to the southern city of Adelaide and will replace the current aging fleet of P-3 Orion surveillance planes.

 (Agencies)

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