US CBP Launches New Maritime Unmanned Aircraft System
The US Customs and Border Protection took delivery today of the first maritime variant of the Predator B unmanned aircraft system.
At a ceremony in Palmdale, California, CBP, US Coast Guard, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. unveiled the prototype maritime variant Predator B, known as Guardian.
To support future mission requirements, CBP in partnership with the USCG is exploring a maritime variant of its Predator B UAS to increase reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting acquisition capabilities in maritime operating environments. For this purpose, GA-ASI, the manufacturer of the Predator B UAS, modified a CBP Predator B aircraft to become the Guardian.
"The Predator B Unmanned Aircraft System has proven its value to homeland security over the nation's land borders, the Great Lakes region, and in support of DHS hurricane and flood response operations," said Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner for the US Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine. "With the introduction of the Guardian, maritime variant of the Predator B, DHS now has a powerful tool and force multiplier to increase maritime domain awareness and confront threats to our borders."
The Guardian has been modified from a standard Predator B with structural, avionics, and communications enhancements, as well as the addition of a Raytheon SeaVue Marine Search Radar and an Electro-optical/Infrared Sensor that is optimized for maritime operations.
The Guardian is expected to be ready for Operational Test and Evaluation in early 2010. This OT&E will be conducted jointly by CBP and USCG from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. After the Guardian completes operational testing this spring, it will be deployed to the drug source and transit zones to support joint counter-narcotics operations.
In 2008, CBP and the USCG formed a UAS Joint Program Office to identify and address common maritime UAS requirements, including sensors, command and control, data exploitation, logistics and training, and basing.
"I am proud of our partnership with Customs and Border Protection to develop the maritime version of the Predator B," said Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the US Coast Guard. "An unmanned aircraft system is a significant and needed force multiplier that will help us counter threats like narcotics and migrant smuggling, terrorism, and piracy in the vast expanses of the maritime domain. The collaborative work between Coast Guard and CBP officers at the Joint Program Office has been outstanding and we're seeing the results here today."
In the Southeast Coastal Border Region of the United States and drug source and transit zones, CBP plans to use the Guardian to conduct long-range surveillance in support of joint counter-narcotics operations, where maritime radar is necessary to detect a variety of threats.
In the future, at the Northern Border, the Guardian will allow CBP to conduct surveillance of the Great Lakes, creating a more comprehensive picture of activity in this expansive maritime environment, and give law enforcement a more accurate tool to use in sorting illegal activity from legitimate activity.
CBP first employed the Predator B in support of law enforcement operations on the Southwest Border in 2005 and along the Northern Border in 2009. CBP operates three Predator Bs from Libby Army Airfield in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and two more from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. UAS operations will continue to expand in 2010. By 2015, Air and Marine expects to employ the Predator B throughout the border regions with command and control from a network of UAS ground control stations across the country.
Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Aviation, Air and Marine's new MQ-9 Predator B Unmanned Aircraft System will support air and marine crews and Border Patrol agents charged with securing the border.
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