THE United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has asked the US federal government for $5.8 million to operate unmanned surveillance drones in the Caribbean.
The CBP, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said it hopes that the drones will be able to spot semi-submersible submarines and night-time fast boat trips used by drug traffickers to transport cocaine and other drugs from Central America to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries.
Officials said the unmanned aircraft in the Caribbean will not be armed, but will be able to spot drug traffickers and then report to a command centre, which will alert the Coast Guard, Navy or authorities from Caribbean or Central American nations to take action.
After quietly testing the programme in The Bahamas for the last 18 months, the DHS said it plans to start unmanned surveillance flights into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in a move that would more than double miles now covered by the department's fleet of nine surveillance drones.
Prior technologies in the area have failed to meet the surveillance requirements, officials said.
US officials said while they have apprehended five semi-submersibles in the region, it is only a small number of those they believe travel through Caribbean waters.