Friday, February 26, 2010

Guardian UAV for drug traffic-monitoring

Over-water developmental tests of the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) first Guardian UAV at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif., were completed on Feb. 11 after “a flawless 8-hr. flight”. In light of this success, all back-up flights previously scheduled have been canceled and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) crews are currently preparing the aircraft for transit to Florida, with an expected arrival date of Feb. 22 and first-flight date of Feb. 25.

The prototype maritime variant, distinguished by a belly-mounted APS-134 SeaVue surveillance radar, is aimed at drug traffic-monitoring. The radar provides inverse synthetic aperture and synthetic aperture imaging as well as weather and target detection and search-and-rescue transponder modes. The UAV will be used initially by CBP in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard to test its reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting acquisition capabilities in coastal waters. CBP says the Guardian will eventually support joint counter-narcotics operations against drug-running “fast boats” and difficult-to-detect semi-submersible craft.

With a second vehicle due for delivery for trials next month, GA-ASI is optimistic additional Guardian systems can follow the initial deployment. CBP has a strategic plan for up to 18 Predator-type vehicles, of which at least six will be for maritime missions.

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