Skip to comments.Eye in sky Eye in sky
Posted on 05/24/2003 10:05:04 AM PDT by AlaskaErik
FOREIGN FISHING TRAWLERS slipping into Alaska waters may one day find their illegal activities monitored by eyes in the sky. And, if Sen. Ted Stevens gets his way, any vessels illegally crossing the Maritime Boundary Line will get a direct warning to leave.
Adm. Thomas Collins, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, told the homeland security subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee that his agency is working on a program to use unmanned drone aircraft to detect illegal operations in U.S. waters.
Collins' statement came in response to questioning by Stevens, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Stevens was grilling the Coast Guard commandant about how the agency will manage to fill its traditional role in areas like search and rescue and fisheries monitoring and enforcement now that its mission has been expanded to include homeland security.
Stevens urged the Coast Guard to use Predator drones in Alaska waters, where Russian pollock factory trawlers have repeatedly crossed the boundary line, often in coordinated incursions and under suspicious circumstances that suggest the trawlers are monitoring Coast Guard cutter activities.
HE URGED that the Predators be equipped with "onboard warning capabilities" that could notify foreign vessels they are entering Alaska waters and should get their hulls out of here.
Collins said using Predators might be difficult. The Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft used recently for monitoring military activities in the Middle East. On at least a few occasions the drones were used to launch rockets at fleeing terrorist vehicles.
"The Predator is a hot commodity," Collins said. "You have to wait in line in terms of production capacity to get one." He noted that the Coast Guard is working on an alternative to the Predator drones. Instead it will buy up to 76 fixed-wing, vertical takeoff and landing, unmanned aircraft in a project called Eagle Eye.
The new unmanned aircraft will be able take off from the decks of Coast Guard vessels and provide the cutters an eye in the sky able to range hundreds of miles from the ships.
Eagle Eye is still in its development stage. Bell Helicopter was awarded a contract in February to design, develop and build three prototype Eagle Eye aircraft and have them ready for testing in 2005. So it could be a number of years before the aircraft are patrolling Alaska's maritime skies.
Stevens is right to hold the Coast Guard's feet to the fire to make sure the agency's traditional role in Alaska does not take a back seat to homeland security.
The Voice of the Times does not represent the editorial views of the Anchorage Daily News. This commentary is published under an agreement with the owner of the former Anchorage Times newspaper to preserve its separate editorial voice. The Voice of the Times staff can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yeah, a couple of Hellfire missiles should send a real strong warning to those ships that weren't sunk!
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