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Boating safety could get boost from Predators

“The Guardian.” It was a 2006 hit movie about a high school swim champion who enters the Coast Guard's "A" School, and highlighted the great job the Coast Guard does. Fittingly, now it’s also the name being given to a prototype maritime version of the Predator unmanned drone.

Armed Predators are chalking up great results in pursuit of al-Qaida and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the Coast Guard is looking into drones for search and rescue and drug interdiction. Admiral Thad W. Allen, Commandant, recently announced the Coast Guard is about to begin testing it’s first Guardian.

“It has great potential that we’re investigating right now,” Allen said. Test flights are slated to begin this month from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Predator Bs (unarmed versions) are already being extensively used by the Department of Homeland Security to patrol U.S. borders. They are equipped with surveillance and tracking equipment. The Guardian is somewhat different. It’s equipped with a newly-developed maritime radar system the Coast Guard has been working on to deal with the sea environment. What really needs to be determined at this point is how well these drones will perform in finding and tracking objects in the water.

As history has shown, our nation’s huge military investment also serves as an incubator for technological advances. The digital computer and the Internet, for example, were both by-products of defense-related research. So, the Coast Guard’s adaptation for the Guardian is another benefit showing great promise.

The unmanned Guardian will hit a home run if its test flights clearly demonstrate it can track and find boats and humans in distress, drug running vessels and human trafficking craft. Unlike the current Coast Guard manned aircraft which have limited time aloft, the Guardian will be able to stay aloft for more than a day and has a 3,200-mile-plus range. In addition, the cost of keeping the Guardian in the air searching is another great advantage over the current manned aircraft.

The cost to develop the Guardian has been pegged at about $13.5 million, according to a New York Times report. The benefits the Guardian could offer to search and rescue, boating safety and national security make it a true bargain.

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