November 8, 2009 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Drone over troubled waters


After more than a year of study, testing and consultation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is finally getting an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can conduct long endurance patrols over water.

Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine office, an arm of Homeland Security, plans to unveil next month the first of its Predator B unmanned aircraft to be equipped with a maritime radar system allowing it to monitor small surface vessels – the kind that drug cartels and people smugglers use.

The roll out is currently slated for Dec. 7 in Palmdale, California at the Gray Butte Flight Operations Center of Predator manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Plans are still fluid, however, and the rollout might shift to General Atomics’ Poway, Calif. facility.

The maritime mission Predator will be equipped with Raytheon’s SeaVue Maritime and Overland Surveillance Radar, as well as a Raytheon Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS-B) with electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) tracking capability. The Predator will also have an Automated Identification System (AIS) device allowing the unmanned aircraft’s operators, who will be using a specially-built maritime ground control system, to identify larger vessels equipped with government-required AIS transponders.

Last year CBP Air and Marine – in cooperation with the Air Force and Coast Guard – tested a marinized Predator, flying it from Tyndall Air Force Base down the Gulf Coast to the Florida Keys and back. In that test, CBP and the Coast Guard used a borrowed Air Force Predator equipped with a maritime search radar package from Israeli manufacturer, Elta.

But CBP officials say the flight from Tyndall is too long a commute to effectively patrol Gulf and Caribbean waters for drug and people smugglers – as well as possible terrorist infiltrators. Instead, CBP plans to base the maritime variant at Patrick Air Force Base near Cape Canaveral, Florida.

CBP Air and Marine bills itself as the world’s largest law enforcement air force with 290 aircraft, both fixed wing and rotorcraft — as well as 225 maritime vessels.

CBP Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik, who heads the Air and Marine office, has been pushing for the maritime capability to extend the reach of his fleet of six Predators. Most are based at Sierra Vista, Arizona close to the border with Mexico. But one UAS is located at Grand Forks, North Dakota, near the U.S.-Canadian border.

–John M. Doyle (4gwar.wordpress.com)


Entry filed under: Aircraft, Homeland Security, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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