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U.S. Navy is looking to use drones to cut cost of patrolling seas

The Caribbean is a major route via which cocaine enters the U.S., as well as being a major secondary route for marijuana and other drugs.  A 2004 report by Caribbean local outpost of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime the Caribbean drug trade commands around $5B USD in annual revenue and accounts for around 125-170 of the pure metric tons of cocaine entry North America, or around 50 percent of it.

To date the U.S. has largely relied on Coast Guard and naval patrols to try to spot and intercept the drug smugglers.  Now its going high tech, adopting an armada of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  The initial deployment involves testing an unmanned aerostat (blimp) named "Aerostar" and RQ-20 Puma hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicles aboard the High Speed Vessel Swift, a 321-foot vessel in the Fourth fleet.

I. Meet Aerostar

Both Puma and the Aerostar have seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now the military is putting them to use in another one of the nation's long-standing and costly wars -- the war on drugs.

North Dakota-based U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contractor Raven Industries produces the helium-filled floater.  Raven Industries prefers the term "Aerostat" to blimp to avoid any sort of trademark conflicts.  It cruises at 2,000 feet.

Unofficially dubbed "The Eye in the Sky" or "The Floating Eye" by servicemen, the DOD has already brought home some of these fliers for use with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency and its parent, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in their work policing the Mexican border.

The Navy tests its new Aerostar floater. [Image Source: AP]

The Aerostar is typically will be equipped with the "Kestrel" wide-area scanning sensor from Logos Technologies and the Wescam sensor from L-3 Communications, which provides narrower range multi-imaging.  It has an effective scanning range of about 50 miles at altitude -- nearly ten times the visibility of a the Navy surface craft.

II. Meet Puma

The Puma is produced by AeroVironment, Inc. (AVAV) a Monrovia, Calif.-based UAV maker.  With a range of 9 miles/2 hours it serves a companion role, giving a "God's eye view" of potential targets spotted by Aerostar.  Its electrooptical and infrared cameras offer close-up inspection of targets, while its 13-pound frame makes for easy hand launches.  

Caribbean PUMA
A Puma test launch aboard the Swift [Image Source: AP]

Puma fliers travel between 23 and 52 mph.  The craft is driven by a small propeller, powered by onboard lithium-ion batteries.

Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris tries his hand at a Puma launch [Image Source: AP]

The Puma joins the CBP's Predator drones in patrolling the Caribbean; two of the CBP's ten domestic Predator drones patrol that region.  It also joins Air Force jets and other aircraft, which regularly do flyovers of the region on patrol.

The U.S. Navy has begun testing both fliers last week.  Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, commander of the Navy's 4th Fleet, says this is the first time that UAVs have been used in Caribbean drug patrols.

Not all went smoothly.  The Puma on its first return at a press demo plunged into the ocean and had to be retrieved -- fortunately it floats.  A second launch saw a landing on deck.

III. Sequester Ends Martillo, but UAVs to Continue the "War on Drugs"

The use of drones so closed to the U.S. homeland will doubtless raise concerns about domestic surveillance, particularly given that Florida just passed a law banning most forms of warrantless drone surveillance over its airspace.  However, the Navy drones will be presumably used exclusively over international waters.  And these are small, unarmed drones, unlike the larger Predator drones that the CBP uses -- drones that could potentially be armed.

The Navy is looking to UAVs and smaller, faster craft to handle drug enforcement needs amid budget cuts from the sequester.  Last year The Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Thach (FFG 43), USS Gary (FFG 51), and guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) were deployed in the region on a special mission dubbed Operation Martillo ("martillo" means hammer in Spanish).  

The operation was a relative success -- according to naval sources it seized 160 tons ($4B worth) of cocaine, valued at $12B USD in street resale value; 25,000 pounds of marijuana, worth more than $10M USD on the streets; and $3.5M USD in cash were seized.  

Cocaine seized
The sequester is ending Op. Martillo ("hammer"), a sting that nabbed 160 tons of cocaine.
[Image Source: AP]

However, the sequester effectively ended Martillo and its deployment of larger ships to traffick the Caribbean.  The sequestration is slashing $4B USD from the Navy budget.  A frigate costs only around $25M USD to operate a year [source].  Crew costs can be around $2.1M USD for the complement of 21 officers onboard and around $4.6M USD for the complement of 190 enlisted naval servicemen [source].  Given these relatively low costs it's somewhat unclear why the Navy chose to cut this mission given Martillo's success, but the UAVs will certainly help save costs.

Source: AP (on PhysOrg)

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RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 10:56:29 AM , Rating: 2
Without Prohibition: Al Capone and such still shoot at each other. They just now sell other drugs.

Then you also have a ton of other problems. How many alcohol problems do we have in this country? How many deaths and injuries caused by alcohol and tobacco? These are not even close to be considered hard drugs.

RE: What a waste of money
By arazok on 4/29/2013 12:01:11 PM , Rating: 2
I’ll take more addicts and related deaths over more gun violence and organized crime any day.

The war on drugs only success is that it drives the price of drugs up by constraining the supply. As cheap as drugs are, they would be even cheaper if they were freely available. In every other regard, it’s a total farce. They are still easily obtained, our streets are war zones as gangs fight over turf, and the money spent on the war is absolutely mind blowing.

We could have the exact same situation without all the downsides if the government simply legalized it, and regulated/taxed the product. Tax it so it’s the same price as it is now, and make it obtainable in stores instead of on streets. We’ll still have a problem with drug addicts, but at least there won’t be as many gang wars and tax dollars going towards fighting an impossible cause.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 12:26:35 PM , Rating: 3
drugs related deaths and injury overshadow organized crime when it's illegal. What makes you think it will be better when it's legal and cheap?

Great! let's make coke legal along with every hard drugs out there. Now I'll have a bunch of lazy people on weed or some depressants. I'll walk outside and see waves of retards running around destroying everything because they think they're superman when they're just on coke or speed.

I hope you don't ever make any decisions for any country.

RE: What a waste of money
By arazok on 4/29/2013 2:31:51 PM , Rating: 2
Making it legal will still not convince many people to try it. That fact that it will ruin your life if generally enough disincentive for most.

Odds are, you would never notice that anything changed, apart from the fact that the number of gang related crimes plummeted.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 2:46:10 PM , Rating: 2
sure, in your mind

Your argument can easily be countered.

There will always be poor people. That is how the world is set up as long as there are rich people. Anyone in any class can be in gangs but it's vastly just poor folks. So you take away their source of income. They don't have enough to get by. Guess what? more prostitution and robbery. Sure, they'll stop fighting each other over territory for selling drugs. Now they'll pick more pockets and mug more people. They'll come to your house and clean you out while your high on your legal marijuana.

RE: What a waste of money
By arazok on 4/29/2013 3:32:35 PM , Rating: 2
Well, legalize prostitution and you’d have that taken care of as well. ;)

Theft could be a problem, perhaps. I’d take that over turf and drug wars any day. Perhaps we could reallocate the billions spent fighting the war on drugs to allocate more street cops in an effort to prevent real crimes?

I could also argue that breaking the cycle of drugs/jail might help more poor people get out of their situation.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/30/2013 9:23:09 AM , Rating: 2
Gangs will always fight over territory. If it's not alcohol, it's drugs. If it's not drugs, it's prostitution. If it's not prostitution, it's guns. Guns are legal for practically anyone, but they still manage to do it illegally.

If South America and Central America didn't open your eyes then I don't know what will. Shakira videos are great but the vast majority of people isn't exactly having a great time.

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 3:06:15 PM , Rating: 2
"drugs related deaths and injury overshadow organized crime when it's illegal. What makes you think it will be better when it's legal and cheap?"

100% FALSE. Go look at the statistics and specifically look at the date predating 1971 when drugs were legal. Your confusing data that includes deaths and injury as a result of the violence and other issues to do with high cost as a result of the prohibition with actual drug related deaths and injury.

Remember in a legal system, the product would be carefully quality controlled and the amounts would be known 100% of the time. Thus except for the "chemists" that like to mix drugs and make mistakes, no one would overdose. As for injury, most coke heads, or LSD lovers don't drive while they're on their high, and when the high is over, it's gone with little long term effect (other than nightmares for LSD users) unlike Alcohol that can last in the system for 12+ hours.

Thus by legalizing you eliminate all violent crime as a result of the drug trade, you get rid of most gangs because they only exist because of the money they make on drug sales, you eliminate a huge portion of long term prostitution because the drugs are used to keep them in the system, and you cut the cost of the drugs by 90-95% in very short order, which makes it no more onerous on your monthly paycheck than a 24 of beer and thus you can be a drug addict just as easily as an alcoholic who keeps it together, or someone that chain smokes.

ERGO: There is no downside. No increase in use, less crime, fewer cops, thus saving money, new taxes, new jobs, more productive people = win for everyone except law enforcement and the cartells.

RE: What a waste of money
By andrewaggb on 4/29/2013 3:18:59 PM , Rating: 2
it will fix some problems and create others. If hard drugs are legal then it might not be grounds to fire people. Drug tests might not be permissible.

Desperate people addicted to drugs commit all sorts of crimes. If you have any friends who are police officers they can tell you that drugs or alcohol are the leading cause of all the things they deal with.

I don't really have an answer though. The reality is people can already obtain drugs. Our current efforts aren't successful. Society may not have the money/will/etc to win a war on drugs.

Will it cost society more to deal with the increased social problems that legalizing drugs may create or will it actually save money? If drugs are legal would more people use them or would it just be safer for those who use them already? There's lots of questions. And do you legalize them all? Or just some?

Irresponsible use of alcohol has done so much damage to society. I know it's not fair to compare it to hard drugs, but I worry about a future where hard drugs could be considered socially acceptable.

RE: What a waste of money
By 3DoubleD on 4/29/2013 12:21:45 PM , Rating: 2
If organized crime is making money selling other drugs, then legalize and regulate those drugs and price them out of the market. This is what the Netherlands does.

Look at drug dealing as a business. You have an operating cost (growing, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, "security") and you have your income, which is based on the street price of drugs. The current strategy is like playing "whack-a-mole", hitting them whenever we can legally see them. This drives up their operation costs, but because they have a monopoly on the drug market, they have pricing control and they can absorb easily absorb operation cost increases.

If you provide a legal way to access drugs, in a safe environment (with doctors, counsellors, nurses, ect.) , for a far lower cost, then you take away pricing control. If you want to do crack cocaine, you can go to a clinic and be administered it under safe conditions, but you have to undergo addition counselling as well. You hit organized crime where it hurts, on their bottom line and in their wallets. If you can make the cost of doing business exceed the potential profit, then the incentive for such crime is gone.

The "whack-a-mole" with a hammer technique will never work since there is a continuous demand for these drugs. Cripple the revenue stream, help the addicted, and save money and lives doing it.

Also, legalize marijuana and tax the crap out of it (same with alcohol and tobacco). Use that tax money to pay for the drug abuse programs (including the clinics I mentioned above). Not a single dollar from income tax would be required - no one will be paying for anyone else's high... unless they are getting high themselves.

Alcohol and drugs are a fact of life, people use them, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that fact. Let's not base policy on wishful thinking, let's crush the revenue stream, removing the financial incentive, and help the addicted.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 12:37:10 PM , Rating: 2
It's not that I don't agree with your argument. The problem with that is you are willing to take a short term loss that is not acceptable for our society.

You can argue the Netherlands does and blah blah blah but the Netherlands is not the US. The culture is different, they don't have the same problem, in a different geographical location, and the MUCH LOWER POPULATION. There was not much incentive to take drug to the Netherlands and legalizing made it even less of an incentive.

In the US, drug farm capital of the world is pretty much just a little beyond our Southern borders. We have a massive amount of population that has plenty of money to spend on drugs. I completely agree it would work in Alaska but not densely populated southern parts of US.

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 2:50:37 PM , Rating: 2
Apples to apples:

In the years before and after 1971 when drugs were made illegal by the federal government, there was no change in the use of those same drugs. Further, in the 40+ years since those drugs were made illegal there has been absolutely no change in the per-capita rate of use.

But, at the same time we've spent over a trillion dollars trying to enforce the law, and there has been a massive increase in violent crime, and people in jail to the point where we have more people in jail per capita than the Soviet Union even in its hay day.

It is a failure. Legalizing drugs will, even with US only data not result in any increase in drug use, because there was no decrease when they were outlawed.

ERGO you're position is wrong. Legalize them all.

RE: What a waste of money
By 91TTZ on 4/29/2013 4:46:11 PM , Rating: 2
You can argue the Netherlands does and blah blah blah but the Netherlands is not the US.

You reveal your thought process to be incredibly weak in each and every thread in which you participate. Your posts are like pollution on this forum. Please stop posting. Seriously.

RE: What a waste of money
By Richard875yh5 on 4/30/2013 10:35:01 AM , Rating: 2
What happened years ago happened, today is today. You can quote what happened during the Capone days, but any morons should knows we have to make a big effort to stop drugs from coming into the USA. Today, we have new technologies that we didn't have back then and we should use them. Any morons who says differently should have their head examine. It sad morons tries to paint a different pictures by using the past history.

RE: What a waste of money
By ritualm on 5/2/2013 1:15:33 PM , Rating: 2
Marijuana was banned because Dow Chemical didn't want anyone to make cheaper chemical derivatives out of the hemp plant, as opposed to doing the same with barrels of non-renewable crude oil.

Keeping all that contraband banned forever does the following:

- increase prison spending
- increase police spending
- increase military spending
- increase the costs of many common products because they must be made with more expensive material sources
- increase the number of people who are stripped of their voting rights simply because of contraband possession, and therefore forcing them to do crime because they cannot be employed anymore
- greatly increased crime levels
- decreased police attention towards all non-contraband-related crime
- increased overwork of existing cops, and with that increased incidence of police brutality
- increased health care costs because society is forced to use less effective drugs at high prices to treat the same ailments

All of which, by the by, come back to haunt every last waking second of your life - never mind reducing the standard of living over time and increasing the burden of an already ballooning national debt.

Legalize the damned things. Regulate them like we already do with alcohol, tobacco and firearms. Then deal with the problems associated with these things like we already do with DUI, school shootings and teenage smoking. Outright banning them is not the answer - remember, the Prohibition never prevented anyone from getting drunk in the first place.

You're talking a bunch of awful nonsense.

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