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Drone aircraft will patrol drug trafficking routes at sea

December 7, 2009 |  7:17 pm

The federal government today unveiled an unmanned aerial aircraft that will be used to patrol drug trafficking routes at sea, marking an expansion of predator drone flights by the Department of Homeland Security.

Predator drone aircraft have patrolled the Canadian and Arizona-Mexico border areas for years. The new, modified aircraft, built by Poway-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, is equipped with radar for spotting maritime vessels.

The drone, which will be operated from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida, will begin a test phase next year in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, authorities said. There are no plans in the near future to deploy the aircraft to the California-Mexico border, said Juan A. Munoz Torres, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection.

The agency currently operates three predator drones in Arizona and two in North Dakota, patrolling for cross-border incursions by drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.

-- Richard Marosi in San Diego