Coast Guard considering drones to watch long coastlines

The Coast Guard is exploring the possibility of deploying unmanned "drone" aircraft to monitor coastlines that go largely unwatched, the service's head of vessel inspections said Friday.

The planes would be able to linger over stretches of coast and improve the tracking of small vessels under 300 gross tons that are largely below the threshold of Coast Guard attention, Rear Adm. Brian Salerno said at a breakfast meeting held by the National Defense University Foundation.

Salerno did not offer any details of what a drone-based surveillance and detection network might look like or how exactly the planes would be deployed.

The United States has 95,000 miles of coast line that is essentially an international border, Salerno said. That border, however, is not protected equally. Security is relatively robust at the nation's larger ports, but remains "spotty" along other coastal areas, he said.

Vessels weighing more than 300 gross tons are covered by an electronic tracking system that relays location information when they are in U.S. ports. An international agreement calls for the same system to enable tracking of those ships at longer ranges off national coasts by the end of 2008.

The 8,000 smaller foreign vessels that make about 60,000 U.S. port calls a year, as well as the 17 million recreational boats in the United States, come and go largely unseen unless an aircraft or Coast Guard boat happens to be in the vicinity, Salerno said.

"What we do not have is full coverage," he said. "We have very spotty coverage as far as ships that are operating along our coasts that are below the [300-ton] threshold."

Such vessels could carry nuclear substances or other dangerous material, transport terrorists seeking to enter the United States, or even be used as weapons themselves as in the 2000 suicide bombing against the USS Cole, Salerno said.

The "visibility" of small vessels is not adequate, he said. "We have some maritime domain awareness gaps. There are some things we don't see," Salerno said. "If it's occurring outside a port area we probably won't see it."

Salerno's comments come a few weeks after Vayl Oxford, head of the Homeland Security Department's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, said his agency was planning a shift away from a port-centric attention to maritime shipping containers.

In terms of a possible avenue for terrorists to deliver a nuclear or radiological device to U.S. soil, small seagoing vessels and small general-aviation aircraft represent a concern and will become a growing focus, he said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.