High-tech test to capture drug runners

Navy, Coast Guard testing UAVs to battle smugglers

SAN DIEGO - The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are testing new technologies in the Caribbean and off Central America to gain an edge over drug smugglers.

"They are over the sea, on the sea and under the sea; we're hoping this technology will expand our ability to see them well before they deliver," said Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, who commands the Navy's 4th Fleet, where most of the drug smuggling takes place.

Two technologies are being tested on a high-speed vessel in the Caribbean, one being the Puma, an airborne surveillance system.

"The Puma can operate at least 20 km from the ship, and with onboard cameras [it] can livestream real-time information back to the operator," said Steve Gitlin with Aerovironment which makes the Puma.

Weighing about 13 pounds, the Puma can be thrown into the air and recovered in the water.

The other technology being tested is Aerostat from Raven Industries, a tethered helium-filled balloon that also has surveillance capabilities.

"The unmanned aerial systems allow operators to see before we get on scene, as well as record what's going on to be used as evidence later," Harris said.

When drug runners spot the military, they usually dump their cargo overboard, officials say.

The systems will be tested for about a month.

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