090508-N-2821G-146 ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 8, 2009) The Northrop Grumman Corporation-developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle MQ-8B Fire Scout hovers over the flight deck of the guided-missile frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8). McInerney is preparing for an upcoming counter-illicit trafficking deployment to Latin America, where the ship is scheduled to use Fire Scout to assist with counter-drug operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alan Gragg/Released). MC2 Alan Gragg
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Drug runners and pirates beware: a Navy helicopter drone made its first official drug bust on April 3. The U.S. Navy Fire Scout stealthily tailed a “go-fast” boat suspected of carrying narcotics for three hours, and captured video of the boat’s refueling rendezvous with a fishing vessel. Not a bad outcome for started as a “routine test flight,” according to Navy reports.

The quiet drone surveillance eventually allowed the guided-missile frigate USS McInerney and its detachment of U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement to move in for the seizure. The drug runners dumped perhaps 440 pounds into the water, but the Navy ship still nabbed about 132 pounds.

The MQ-8B drone has been aboard the USS McInerney since October 2009, and the Navy plans to have more operating on the high seas in the near future. The U.S. Army initially had its own order for the helicopter drone, but that version was terminated in a slew of budget cuts.

Still, it’s just one part of a growing unmanned sky swarm, given that the U.S. has also deployed Reaper drones to search for pirates in the waters off the Horn of Africa. The Marine Corps has been testing its own unmanned K-MAX helicopter as an aerial mule which can move 3,000 pounds across 600 miles.

If DARPA gets its way, we might see drones flying off of self-assembling naval bases in the imagined future.

[via _Ares Defense Blog]

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