U.S. Coast Guard makes first drug bust using UAVs

July 26, 2013
The U.S. Coast Guard recently launched a demonstration of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities that resulted in the apprehension of nearly 600 kilograms of cocaine aboard a go-fast vessel that a ScanEagle UAV was able to track

During a recent two-week U.S. Coast Guard demonstration of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities, a ScanEagle UAV aided in the interdiction of nearly 600 kilograms of cocaine – the first time the Coast Guard has used UAVs in an interdiction operation.

The ScanEagle, which was in the air for more than 90 hours, was deployed by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf to monitor a suspected go-fast vessel. When the UAV located the vessel, it maintained constant on-scene surveillance until the MH-65D Short Range Recovery helicopter and Over the Horizon cutter boats arrived to interdict and apprehend the vessel’s crew, according to the Coast Guard news release.

ScanEagle UAVs were developed by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing. The UAVs feature 1.9 hp and a 2-stroke engine, GPS/inertial navigation, pneumatic catapult launch, and SkyHook wing tip capture for recovery purposes. For the UAV’s vision system, the ScanEagle—depending on the model—carries either an electro-optical or a long-wave infrared (LWIR) camera that is intertially stabilized and allows the operator to track both stationary and moving targets.

The EO900 imager electro-optical model combines an electro-optical telescope with Insitu’s electro-optical camera which provides 170X zoom. It is gyro-stabilized with coordinate hold mode and includes a video processing board, picture-in-picture display, and articulated nose enclosure.

A DRS E6000 imager from DRS Technologies is used for the LWIR model of the UAV. High pan and title slew rates allow the user to switch rapidly between multiple targets within the field of regard, according to Insitu. The LWIR model is capable of 3X digital zoom, 15-degree field of view, and is capable of operating in combat situations.

The Coast Guard has identified cutter-based UAVs as a key component to enhance the operational effectiveness of its major cutter fleet through on-demand, persistent surveillance capabilities. The next phases of UAV demonstrations will focus on quantitative data gathering aboard a National Security Cutter in 2014.

View the Coast Guard press release.

Also check out:
Five ways UAVs are being used by civilians
A glimpse into how the scientific community might leverage UAV technology
Embedded vision modules speeds event detection

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About the Author

James Carroll

Former VSD Editor James Carroll joined the team 2013.  Carroll covered machine vision and imaging from numerous angles, including application stories, industry news, market updates, and new products. In addition to writing and editing articles, Carroll managed the Innovators Awards program and webcasts.

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