Report advocates Defence drone PR offensive

The Department of Defence needs to "strengthen its public communications" when it comes to drones, parliamentary inquiry recommends

© Commonwealth of Australia 2015

© Commonwealth of Australia 2015

The Department of Defence should "strengthen its public communications" in relation to drone-style unmanned platforms, a parliamentary report has recommended.

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee today issued its report on the use by the Australian Defence Force of unmanned platforms, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — better known as drones.

A number of Australian police forces have explored the potential use of drones for tasks including crime-scene analysis, search and rescue and public safety operations.

The ADF has used unmanned systems, but not armed drones. They have been employed for explosion detection and removal in Afghanistan, for example.

Among the report's recommendations are that the Department of Defence should "acquire armed unmanned platforms when the capability requirement exists".

However, it also notes that drones have somewhat of an image problem.

"The negative perception of unmanned platforms was identified as a key risk of their acquisition and deployment, particularly if they were armed," the report notes.

"Concerns were expressed that an ill-informed view was held by the general public in relation to unmanned platforms."

"Perception management is considered to be a risk, as well as a challenge," Defence stated in its submission to the inquiry.

"Poor perceptions created by the illegal or uncertified civilian use of unmanned platforms within the domestic community in particular has the potential to generate an incorrect perception of the systems used by the military."

"In order to counter the 'dark mystic' of unmanned platforms, Defence should assess its public communications strategies to ensure Australians are able to receive accurate and timely information about the use of unmanned platforms by the ADF," the inquiry's report stated.

"The reliability of unmanned platforms, their operation in populated areas and interaction with civilian aviation should all be addressed."

Defence, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Airservices Australia should co-operate to "facilitate the safe use of unmanned platforms in Australian airspace," the committee recommended.

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