Wanted: Winged Drug Dogs

Employing remotely piloted aircraft in the Eastern Pacific could significantly increase the detection and interception of drugs from South America, said Coast Guard commandant Adm. Robert Papp. Only about 20 percent of bulk narcotic shipments are currently stopped due to a shortage of resources, Papp said at a roundtable in Washington D.C., April 8. “The best place to stop drugs is in what we call the transit zone” before it reaches Central America where it is broken into smaller shipments, said Papp. The Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and Navy have all been forced to cut the maritime patrol flights that ships depend on for guidance, which is something “I wish we could devote more hours [to],” said Papp. A maritime RPA like the Predator B “could help fill in there,” said Papp but the service simply doesn’t have the money to buy them. “Ships are obviously very expensive, so if you can make those ships smarter by directing them to the best location … you can save some money,” Papp noted. The Coast Guard has embedded RPA pilots with the customs service and has even begun trial deployments using the Navy’s Scan Eagle, but the service is “making slow progress” getting RPAs of its own, he said. Due to its size, the Coast Guard ultimately will “have to depend on the Navy” and piggyback on whatever RPA programs they adopt, explained Papp.