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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.

Aerostar
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.

Caribbean
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: Ya, that will work....
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 11:58:21 AM , Rating: 2
Did you bother to read what I wrote? Since drugs were made illegal in 1971, there has been NO DECREASE IN THE USE OF DRUGS. In every country where they have legalized possession there has been NO INCREASE IN THE USE OF DRUGS. In every country that has legalized the production, distribution and sale of drugs to everyone but minors, THERE HAS BEEN NO INCREASE IN THE USE OF DRUGS.

Alcohol prohibition in the US resulted in NO DECREASE IN THE USE OF ALCOHOL. It resulted in a 5000% increase in violent crime though. Legalizing Alcohol resulted in NO INCREASE IN THE USE OF ALCOHOL. It did result in the violent crime rate returning to what it was previously thought.

THUS: Whatever the addictive nature of drugs, whatever the bad things that people claim will happen, there is no evidence of it. NONE. Legalizing drugs does one thing and one thing only: It puts bad people out of work and thus ends the violence associated with prohibition.

Your perception is not reality, and it's people like you that are enabling the people that are making a ton of money off of the deaths of thousands if not millions of people worldwide every year fighting a war on drugs that has accomplished NOTHING but making criminals of a huge portion of our society and increasing the violent crime rate exponentially. (it also has the effect of increasing the cost of said drugs, making it impossible for some addicts to be productive because it is possible to work and do drugs so long as it doesn't consume your entire existence trying to pay for them.)

People will do drugs whether or not they're legal. No one stopped doing drugs or didn't do them in the first place because they were illegal. All of the stats, studies and polls prove it.

Get your head out of your you knew where and educate yourself!

And no, I don't, and never have done drugs and think it's a disgusting habit and I absolutely do judge people for doing them, but it's their lives and their right to harm their own lives, and thus none of my business until such time as they harm me, my family or my property.


RE: Ya, that will work....
By Cheesew1z69 on 4/29/2013 12:00:27 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
It puts bad people out of work and thus ends the violence associated with prohibition.
Exactly...and a point I was trying to make above but it apparently went over someones head.


RE: Ya, that will work....
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 12:55:32 PM , Rating: 2
WOW 5000%!!!

But I agree with you that prohibition was a bad idea. Hard drugs are in a different league because it causes a high rate of physical/mental dependency.

quote:
Whatever the addictive nature of drugs, whatever the bad things that people claim will happen, there is no evidence of it. NONE. L


Are you serious? There are probably thousands of legitimate medical articles confirming the addiction of these hard drugs. It had been proven many times that your chemical balance/homeostasis is actually affected with these drugs causing extreme addiction.

Please tell China how the opium thing went until they started making it illegal.


RE: Ya, that will work....
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 1:55:13 PM , Rating: 2
You took me out of context. I said that there is no evidence of DRUG PROHIBITION WORKING OR MAKING DRUGS LEGAL AGAIN HAVING ANY NEGATIVE EFFECTS.

Go look it up. All of the stats prove my point.


RE: Ya, that will work....
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 2:50:23 PM , Rating: 2
I just did what you did to me without the caps.

if you think you are right then please explain why they keep having to make most pain killers prescription only. In fact, in most doctor office and hospitals, drugs such as morphine has to be closely watched and meticulously tracked. Please ask the nearest nurse about it and hear her stories about people stealing them.


RE: Ya, that will work....
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 3:00:52 PM , Rating: 2
Guess why pain killers are used by people?

They're easier to get, and cheaper.

Guess what's happening as a result of banning generic brands of pain killers and putting more controls on access? The price is going up.

What do you think the result is?

Yup, you guessed it, an "epidemic" in most states of Heroin use as a result of the decrease in availability of the prescription drugs. (i.e. the cops are seeing more violence not because of the use of Heroin, but because Heroin isn't as easy to get and requires a more complex supply chain, and thus more points for conflict, the crime rate goes up when demand goes up.)

It doesn't solve the problem, it just moves it somewhere else because supply and demand still applies no matter how you go about looking at the situation.

You're making my point wonderfully. You need to educate yourself on basic economics and the history of drug prohibition in this country and others around the world. Once you do, you'll see the reality of the situation and realize that your position is ridiculous.


RE: Ya, that will work....
By BRB29 on 4/30/2013 12:00:38 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Guess why pain killers are used by people? They're easier to get, and cheaper.


Great point! so legalizing them will make them easier to get and cheaper. Now we have more people hopped up on pain killers. They will eventually want something that hit harder and move up to hard drugs.

quote:
Yup, you guessed it, an "epidemic" in most states of Heroin use as a result of the decrease in availability of the prescription drugs. (i.e. the cops are seeing more violence not because of the use of Heroin, but because Heroin isn't as easy to get and requires a more complex supply chain, and thus more points for conflict, the crime rate goes up when demand goes up.)


You basically just said there will always be druggies looking for the next hit. So making drugs accessible to them is going to solve it? The reason why people use heroin and meth is that it is cheap for its effects. Do you realize that people move up from generic pain killers to morphine to heroine. Yea druggies craves more and harder each time so someone just popping percocet isn't going to stop there. All you end up doing by legalizing everything is opening up the gate to more potential addict.

Heroine and meth will always be cheaper than any thing made legally even if they legalize drugs. How long do you think an addict can keep a job? I don't know of a single employer who would want any of their employee to go outside to take a hit and come back high. They will run out of money soon and things will spiral out of control.

quote:
It doesn't solve the problem, it just moves it somewhere else because supply and demand still applies no matter how you go about looking at the situation


Wow, let's sweep it under the rug because no one will see it there.
No it doesn't do anything except make things worse. Supply and Demand is disrupted when intervention from outside sources are present. For example, ceilings ,floors, laws, culture, etc..

Please explain to me how supply and demand will change the mind of an addict. I don't think they care what they have to do to get it.


RE: Ya, that will work....
By 91TTZ on 4/29/2013 4:49:42 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Did you bother to read what I wrote?


He probably read it but couldn't comprehend it. He's been posting in a lot of threads lately but his reasoning ability is consistently poor.


RE: Ya, that will work....
By Skywalker123 on 4/29/2013 7:13:29 PM , Rating: 2
He's probably trolling, surely he isn't as stupid as his posts


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