The US Customs and Border Patrol intends to optimise one of two additional General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator B aircraft to be bought next year as a maritime surveillance asset.
In parallel CBP is preparing to launch an advanced concept technology demonstration effort in conjunction with General Atomics and the US Coast Guard to explore the potential for a commonly acquired endurance UAV system.
The ACTD will use the NASA owned General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Altair version of the Predator B to conduct a series of operational concept and performance tests over the Caribbean in early 2008. Altair would be fitted with an Elta EL/M-20221(V)3 radar for the trials.
Michael Kostelnik, CBP assistant commissioner for air and marine, says that other potential ACTD participants include the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Speaking at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's Unmanned Systems North America conference in Washington 7 August, Kostelnik said the trials would be fully integrated with ships and aircraft operated by the CBP, Coast Guard and Navy.
"From that everybody will have an opportunity to see what the opportunity is what the challenge is in doing that what the requirements for a large, capable maritime variant would be."
CBP has been funded to acquire two Predator B's in 2008 with an ongoing buying programme anticipated Kostelnik said. The agency already has two of the type in service with at third to be delivered in September and a fourth in November.
"We are going to develop with one of our aircraft that we are going to accept in 2008, a maritime variant. I am going to deploy that in the Carribean. I am hoping that our requirements are going to align sufficiently with the Coast Guard that in partnership with them that we can do a joint maritime aircraft".
Kostelnik also revealed that his organisation and the Coast Guard are cooperating on development of a rapid deployment concept for existing CBP Predator B UAVs in the event of domestic emergencies.
The concept, called Agile Unmanned Air System, aims to palletise CBP Predator B aircraft and their ground control infrastructure to allow deployment of a single system aboard a Coast Guard Lockheed Martin C-130. "This is a capability that I would hope that we can have this year" he said.