Unmanned Aircraft Tested for Fight against Drug Trafficking In El Salvador

By Dialogo
May 15, 2009

Today the United States Southern Command in El Salvador introduced an unmanned aircraft that could help combat drug trafficking in Central America, and which will be tested in a surveillance center for two weeks. The "Heron" plane, manufactured by the company Israel Aerospace Industries, was presented to Salvadoran authorities by the U.S. Southern Command at a special ceremony in El Salvador. Among those present at the ceremony were Defense Minister of El Salvador Jorge Alberto Molina and the Director of the National Civil Police (PNC), Jose Luis Tobar, along with General Glenn Spears, Deputy Commander, and Ambassador Paul Trivelli, both of U.S. Southern Command. Molina said that drug dealers "are using technology," and recommended that countries take advantage of technological advances "to carry out the role of protecting the citizenry." The aircraft will stay for two weeks in the drug surveillance center at the Comalapa military airbase, 44 kilometers south of San Salvador. The monitoring center is operated by the U.S., and has uncovered drug shipments being transported by boat in the Pacific Ocean. U.S. Southern Command Deputy Commander General Glenn Spears said that this plane can be used as a tool against drug trafficking, but its technology also allows it to "assist people in times of natural disaster and rescue missions." He said tests will be conducted by Salvadoran authorities on "the technical capability of the unmanned system and aircraft sensors” in order to make a decision on this equipment’s usefulness to the surveillance center. The "Heron" belongs to a series of unmanned aircraft possessing video systems and infrared detectors, and is capable of high performance in monitoring missions, according to Ted Venable, U.S. Southern Command. "This is the first deployment of this sort of technology to be used to combat illicit drug trafficking, and this is a unique opportunity to verify with certainty if it is reliable," said Venable. He explained that the findings will be used to "demonstrate the ability to integrate this technology into normal air traffic" since the military base is located near the El Salvador International Airport, which has the most air traffic in that region. The aircraft, which is operated from a remote station installed on land, may cost between $100,000 and $1 million (USD), depending on the equipment to be included in its manufacture.