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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 Shadowself on 4/29/2013 12:46:07 PM , Rating: 2
I seriously hope you are not directly equating cocaine and its effects with alcohol and its effects.

Cocaine is not even allowed for use by the U.S. medical community except for certain, specific procedures, e.g., rhinoplasty. There are reasons for that.

While so called "soft drugs", e.g., marijuana, are legal, are legal in Amsterdam, so called "hard drugs", e.g., cocaine are not legal in Amsterdam. To make a blanket statement about drugs in Amsterdam is completely misleading.

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 2:48:02 PM , Rating: 2
I will!!! cocaine is less addictive than both Alcohol and Tobacco. It's side effects are similar of not more mild than Alcohol in severity.

In fact no drug is significantly more addictive than Alcohol and tobacco. The only difference is that the lobby for cocaine isn't as big as Alcohol and Tobacco and thus wasn't kept legal.

The problem with drug use isn't the use or the side effects, it's the violence that comes from prohibition.

We know this because there is no difference in use of these drugs if it's legal or made illegal, the only change is the cost and the crime associated with it.

End the madness and legalize it all. Prohibition kills. Drugs only kill at the same rate as other legal drugs like Alcohol and is tiny in comparison to the amount of deaths from the criminals pushing the illegal product that government has no business interfering with in the first place until someone other than the person that chose to take the drugs is harmed.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 3:21:20 PM , Rating: 2
Tobacco and alcohol has a high addiction rate because it is legal and highly available. There is also massive amounts of marketing that goes into it. A large % of people are only addicted to it psychologically as habit or a social fix. Our pop culture also make it look "cool" to do these things.

With drugs like crack, heroine, cocaine, x, etc... you are straight up addicted to it. Your homeostasis changed and the chemical balance in your body/brain is whacked. That is why the dependency is so high and you have massive withdrawal symptoms.

Your assumptions on kill rates with legal vs illegal drugs are just....assumptions. It is not true. Hard drugs have a higher kill rate in a given time period. You can't compare someone who died after 30 years of heavy drinking and smoking vs someone who died after 4 years of meth the same.
Illegal drug users are also most likely unreported as they will do anything to hide from authorities/medical staff for obvious reasons.

RE: What a waste of money
By 91TTZ on 4/29/2013 4:47:55 PM , Rating: 2
With drugs like crack, heroine, cocaine, x, etc... you are straight up addicted to it.

Some people get addicted to it. Not everyone who uses those drugs get addicted to them.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 5/1/2013 8:22:22 AM , Rating: 2
Partial quoting and misleading again I see

RE: What a waste of money
By Skywalker123 on 4/29/2013 7:07:30 PM , Rating: 2
the chemical balance in your body/brain is whacked

Don't know about your body but the chemical balance in your brain is clearly whacked.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 5/1/2013 7:58:14 AM , Rating: 2

here you go. Maybe you should read more and spam less.

RE: What a waste of money
By tigz1218 on 4/29/2013 10:02:01 PM , Rating: 2
Tobacco and alcohol has a high addiction rate because it is legal and highly available.

Really? So the legality of something is the cause for addiction? Fantastic logic!

Everyone, based on BRB29's logic I am:
Addicted to Tylenol, NyQuil, Advil, Robitusin, Alka-Seltzer, Sudafed, Dramamine, Theraflu, and Ephedrine.

Hmmm I guess your logic can also be applied to: I am addicted to drinking Gasoline, Liquid Plumber, Windex, 409, Bleach, Chlorine, Inhaling Aerosols, Propane, Helium. I must also be addicted to going into Home Depot and chopping peoples heads off with axes and shooting them with nail guns.

If I missed anything please feel free to add to the list. Remember, the logic is, if it is legal and readily available, you are addicted to it.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 5/1/2013 8:01:34 AM , Rating: 2
Nice attempt at partial quoting and taking things out of context.

"Why do tobacco and alcohol use co-occur so frequently? Clearly environmental factors contribute to the problem. Both drugs are legally available and easily obtained. Over the past two decades, however, it also has become clear that biological factors are at least partly responsible. Although tobacco and nicotine have very different effects and mechanisms of action, Funk and colleagues (27) speculate that they might act on common mechanisms in the brain, creating complex interactions. These possible mechanisms are difficult to study because alcohol and nicotine can affect people differently depending on the amount of the drugs consumed (28–30) and because numerous factors, including gender and age, influence the interaction between nicotine and alcohol (31,32). Still, a common mechanism might explain many of the interactions between tobacco and alcohol, as well as a possible genetic link between alcoholism and tobacco dependence."

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 5/1/2013 5:36:58 PM , Rating: 2
Absolutely everything you just said is false. Laboratory analysis supports my assertions about addictiveness. Data prior to drugs becoming illegal in this country demonstrates everything else. There is absolutely no assumptions in what I wrote at all.

RE: What a waste of money
By Strunf on 4/30/2013 8:41:49 AM , Rating: 2
"The only difference is that the lobby for cocaine isn't as big as Alcohol and Tobacco and thus wasn't kept legal."
Actually the lobby for not making it legal is quite big and with big pockets, the pharma industry wouldn't want people to be able to grow their own painkillers, antidepressants and what not without paying them a dime, the beneficial effects from many many illegal drugs have been proven and yet people can't grow their own medicine.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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