In a creative move, the navy is testing out drones and even blimps as possible solutions to those budget cuts that will drastically impact their war on drugs.
It’s waterproofed and it’s unmanned. The drone weighs less than 15 pounds and flies on battery power unlike the gas operated, seven-crew manned P-3 Orion.
The idea of using a drone to conduct this type of work could be a hand-hitting-forehead-slap why didn’t we think of this before moment. The drone offers a modern alternative for surveillance by utilizing the latest technology. The craft can provide real-time video of its target – drug smugglers sailing toward Florida.
Pre-budget cut days, the Navy used two frigates to patrol the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific to prevent drugs and ammo from entering the US as well as illegal aliens. (1)
Aqua Puma AE (All Environment) Drone
The Aqua Puma AE has a nine foot wingspan and at a distance has been mistaken for a bird. Although it’s limited in distance usage, it’s ideal for stealth surveillance since it is nearly silent when in operation.
According to the Navy, the Aqua Puma AE was first tested as a hand-launch from the deck of the USS Oak Hill by the Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 3 Detachment (Det.) 1 on October 29, 2011. (2)
Not only can the drone land in water, it can “fly for more than two hours and soar to heights of approximately 3,000 feet”. (2)
Defense Industry Daily reported in January 2013 that recent innovations from Israel’s Bental Systems allowed onboard micro-cameras “stabilized micro-payloads” where previously the cameras were unable to “fix on a designated point and provide a steady, constant image”. This is another improvement that will allow the Navy to fully utilize the latest technology. (3)
Aerostat, the White Blimp
In addition to the drones, the Navy is deploying 321-foot Swifts, white blimps to aid further as watchdogs of the coast.
Armed with the latest state-of-the-art technology, this white air whale carries onboard a camera that can record large ships up to 15 miles away.
The helium powered blimps have an edge over the drones since the blimps can cruise the air 24/7 while the drones must refuel every 10 hours. Unlike the impressive force of an armed frigate, these tools can only survey and not take direct action against lawbreakers.
Aerostat Communications Relay from Unmanned Surface Vehicle
It all began in December 2012,when the Navy issued an acquisition program for ground/sea vehicles. The objective was:
“To increase the communications range between the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) seaframes and Mission Package Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) by developing a modular aerostat communications relay system for the RT-1944/U radio that is semi-autonomously deployed and retrieved from the LCS Unmanned Influence Sweep System USV. The modular aerostat communications relay system includes an aerostat with the RT-1944/U radio, and a launch and recovery mechanism.” (4)
Further information provided in the program description included, “Consequently, an aerostat tethered to the UISS USV has been identified as a desirable solution for Over the Horizon (OTH) communication with the LCS seaframe.
“Previous Navy investigation has indicated that an aerostat solution is feasible and that significant innovation will be needed to achieve it. Currently, no aerostat or similar tethered vehicle has been identified that is small enough or stable enough to be launched from a USV while carrying the radio.
“Once launched from the USV, an aerostat carrying the radio has the potential to provide a long term direct link to the ship. A small, tethered powered air vehicle could be an alternative solution to an aerostat, although its air time would be relatively more limited and the power source, depending on its location, would add additional weight to the vehicle or tether system, possibly beyond the equipment needed to provide power to operate the radio.” (4)
By incorporating the use of USVs with ships, the Navy’s task of enforcing drug laws becomes more effective and centered around real-time surveillance that can document and record any dumping of drugs prior to boarding vessels. By working with other countries to tighten the control over ports around the world, the Navy can take bigger strides in their war on drugs.