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WWII squadron brought back to pilot new high-tech drone

Australia is bringing back an elite squadron to pilot high-tech surveillance drones that can detect what's happening underwater.

The first US-built Triton drone will arrive mid-next year, with another two on order.

The unmanned aircraft has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and can fly for up to 24 hours.

The air force will re-establish 9 Squadron, which operated during the Second World War, to run reconnaissance using the drones.

The squadron was disbanded in 1944 before being set up again between 1962 and 1989, operating during the Vietnam War.

Australian forces began training with the Triton alongside the US Navy late last year and are set to finish by June.

The squadron will operate out of the Northern Territory.

RAAF chief Robert Chipman paid tribute to 9 squadron, saying it had been involved in some of Australia's most iconic battles.

"On the emblem you'll see an Australian native bird, the black-browed albatross,"the air vice marshal told reporters on Friday.

"The black-browed albatross is renowned for spending a long time in overwater flights, which makes it the perfect symbol for the perfect squadron for us to establish the Triton's capability."

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the new drone had a lot to offer.

"It will be able to provide persistent reconnaissance and surveillance of our northern maritime approaches, which is so important in terms of the defence of our nation," he said.

"It is also going to be really useful in terms of surveilling illegal fishing both in our own waters and also the waters of our Pacific neighbours."

Mr Marles said while cardboard drones being sent to Ukraine to help repel Russia's invasion were "very cool technology", their usefulness doesn't directly translate to Australia's situation.

"In the context of what has been faced by Ukraine, it has a high degree of value," he said.

But asked whether they should be acquired by the Australian Defence Force, he said: "Ultimately, that's a question of the assessment of our own needs, which are clearly different from those of Ukraine."

Air Vice Marshal Chipman said it was important to work with US forces to ensure the new drones could be operated effectively when they arrive.

"It's very important to us to make sure you get that right from the outset so that we are able to continue to operate with the US forces," he said.

But Mr Marles said it was also important Australia boost its domestic defence industry.

He said it was integral the nation be taken seriously on the international stage as it "exports this ingenuity around the world".

"The fact we've got a technology being developed in Australia, which has been used in (Ukraine) ... helps boost Australia's strategic weight," he said of the cardboard drones.

"That export, and the utility of that, has Australia being taken more seriously."