The US Navy has begun testing new aerial equipment to detect and monitor drug trafficking in the Caribbean, an example of the technological advances being employed in regional crime fighting.
As the Associated Press reported, the equipment includes large blimps equipped with cameras and sensors that can detect and identify ships from up to 50 miles away, as well as unmanned aircraft known as drones, meant to obtain photos and video of suspicious vessels spotted by the blimp.
The technology has been extensively used by US Customs and Border Protection and the military, but never before by the Navy. Rear Admiral Sinclair Harris, commander of the Navy's Fourth Fleet, said that the devices would be used to compensate for a series of budget cuts, which will limit the number of US Navy ships on patrol in the Caribbean.
InSight Crime Analysis
Drones have been employed in the fight against drug trafficking by the US for a number of years, with the first known testing of such a device taking place off the coast of El Salvador in 2009. Various Latin American countries have followed suit. Drones have not only been employed to catch drug traffickers, but have been used to monitor criminal activity in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, the illegal exploitation of natural resources in remote parts of Brazil, and the energy infrastructure targeted by left-wing rebels in Colombia's conflict.
The camera-equipped blimps, also known as aerostats, is a newer development, first tested last August along the Mexico-US border. As reported by InSight Crime, the use of the aerostats is an attempt to recycle equipment from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, where the devices were used for surveillance around military bases. They are much cheaper to operate than drones, and thus may prove to be a useful tool for US security institutions -- including the Navy -- operating under a more constrained budget.