The U.S. Navy on Friday began testing two new aerial tools, borrowed from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, that officials say will make it easier to detect, track and videotape drug smugglers in action. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2013/04/27/world/americas/ap-cb-caribbean-drug-drones.html?ref=world One of the devices on display aboard the navy test ship is a type of drone that can be launched by hand from the deck. This expands the ability of Navy and Coast Guard personnel to see what’s beyond their horizon and benefits the contractors hoping to sell the devices to the U.S. government. The test boat, Swift, is a private vessel leased to the Navy that is about to begin a monthlong deployment to the southwestern Caribbean, tracking the busy smuggling routes off Colombia and Honduras. Crews practiced launching and operating the drone managing to bring back video of vessels participating in a mock surveillance mission as well as radar and video images of the fishing charters and sailboats that dot the choppy seas separating Cuba from the U.S. mainland. Unmanned aerial devices are not new to the drug fight. U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates 10 Predator drones, including two based in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that patrol a wide swathe of the Caribbean through the Bahamas and down to south of Puerto Rico. It deployed one to the Dominican Republic last year for six weeks and has considered using one in Honduras. The others are used along the northern and southern borders of the United States. The U.S. military has long been deeply involved in counter drug operations in the Southern Hemisphere, coordinated by a multi-agency task force based in Key West, Florida. Navy ships and Air Force jets use their radar to track and shake down smugglers, though for legal reasons the actual arrests are carried out by the Coast Guard, civilian agencies or officials from other countries.
In March, the military said it would reduce patrols and sorties in Latin America and the Caribbean with increased use of aerial surveillance devices like drones.