Drug Surveillance Drones Frequent Flyers in Latin America

Source: New American Media

Drone aircraft are increasingly engaged in counterdrug missions over South American jungles and Mexican cities.

The drones represent the latest high-tech escalation of Latin America’s anti-drug efforts.

Unlike the U.S. military’s Predator drones used to shoot missiles at suspected terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the models known to be in use in Latin America limit their roles to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Latin America’s unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs— as drones are known in aviation circles— are not known to have flown armed missions.

Israel Aerospace Industries, a company that is Israel’s largest industrial exporter, struck recent multimillion-dollar deals in Ecuador and Brazil for its large, 54-foot wingspan Heron drone model.

Israel Aerospace has offices in Colombia, Chile and Ecuador and launched a new joint venture company in Brazil in 2008. The manufacturer sees promise in the Latin American UAV market.

“As we have experienced in other markets, as the (UAV) system becomes more familiar, new applications are found and, as a result, the market will grow,” Doron Suslik, spokesman for Israel Aerospace, wrote in an e-mail.

The UAVs make sense for Latin America since they are more cost-effective and remain in the air longer than manned flights, said Ray Walser, senior policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“I think the more the merrier,” he said. “Right now, there are some nations in which you simply don’t know what’s going on in your own territory.”

Two other Israeli manufacturers, Elbit Systems and Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd., have also sold UAVs to clients in the Americas in the last two years.

The U.S. defense industry also manufactures UAVs, including the Predator series deployed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the transfer of U.S.-made military technology to foreign governments is highly regulated.

“If it is something you can buy off the rack in Israel,” you can avoid some of the scrutiny accompanying U.S. sales, said Rick Van Schoik, director of Arizona State University’s North American Center for Transborder Studies.

Latin American buyers of UAVs may be acquiring them from Israel, but they are following the example of the United States, which pioneered the use of UAVs in non-combat law enforcement roles.

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