Not so friendly skies for drug runners
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday June 25, 2012 – More famously known for their targeted assassination techniques in the Middle East, the United States “Predator drone” technology is now being brought into the drug-trafficking fight in the Caribbean.
Reports coming out of the US are that the Department of Homeland Security has been testing its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the Bahamas for more than a year and is ready to go operational over areas used by smuggling boats in the sea lanes of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.
US Customs and Border Protection has reportedly asked for US$5.8 million in additional financing to further push its drone operations into the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.
The US military is also said to be establishing a new control station in Corpus Christi, Texas this month, a base that will allow Predator drones to perform flights over a larger portion of the Gulf of Mexico; while in Cocoa Beach, Florida, a single new drone will be added to the military’s fleet to monitor water over the Caribbean.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Department of Homeland Security already has nine Predators, most of which are assigned to the Mexican and Canadian border areas. Adding the Gulf and Caribbean to the patrol area will more than double the square miles currently covered.
This move has reportedly come about because, while the United States has been operating several high-tech aircraft in the area, those flights have apparently failed to fight speed boats and other craft used to smuggle drugs into the United States.
However, some scepticism remains as to whether this new technology will be any more effective. Officials told the LA Times the Predator has not proven particularly successful at detecting small boats on the open sea.
The technology being deployed in monitoring drug trafficking routes over the Bahamas border agents reported used a special variation of the Predator B UAV known as “The Guardian”. The UAV was equipped with a SeaVue radar system that is capable of scanning large areas of open water. The Guardian is able to check a ship’s unique radio pulse through a database which can identify the boat’s owner and ship type. (UPI)