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The deployment of federal drones in and around U.S. shores represents one of the Obama administration’s next steps in the nation’s expanded use of unmanned aircraft systems for surveillance purposes.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, or ONMS, recently acquired Puma UAS – a type of drone that the U.S. Navy also uses – for operations off the coast of Los Angeles.

ONMS now is enlisting contractor support in expanding UAS use in California, Hawaii, Florida, and Washington state. Vendors experienced in working with law enforcement and military personnel are needed for this endeavor, according to a solicitation that WND located through routine database research.

The Puma drones – which are small enough to launch by hand – will be used by ONMS to enforce federal regulations, the document says.

The ONMS drone project will focus on Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary located northwest of LA. However, the contractor also will assist Puma UAS operations at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument Midway in Hawaii, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington.

ONMS operates under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, itself a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

This initiative comes at a time when the U.S. Army is evaluating contractor proposals to develop a cadre of trainers in the operation of drones, specifically in the operation of Puma as well as Raven vehicles.

As WND reported in late June, the Army says vendors will help it maintain nearly 1,800 Puma and Raven systems “currently fielded, and alternative medium and long range systems procured in the future.”

Puma UAS are quiet enough “to avoid detection and operate autonomously, providing persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting data,” according to their manufacturer, the Monrovia, California-based AeroVironment, Inc., or AV.

AV touts the ability of its drones to provide operators with “eyes on target” capabilities, thanks to electro-optical and infrared cameras built into the UAS.

“The air vehicle’s modular design allows for alternative payload development to meet the needs of specific military or civilian applications,” the company’s product description also says.

Puma UAS likewise are leveraged by the U.S. Navy, which in recent months awarded a no-bid sole-source contract to AV for Puma spare parts.

The U.S. Army relies on AV for drones as well. Last year the agency awarded a contract worth upwards of $66 million for miniature Raven systems, which share with Puma a common launch and operating platform.

AV recently delivered the latest installment of Raven systems and parts to the Army, and expects to fulfill the remainder of its contract by July 25.

Among other recent domestic drone-related developments:

  • The construction of a $100 million drone hangar at Ft. Riley, Kan., is being planned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The solicitation said the Army Corps project will focus on the construction of “a maintenance hangar for three Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) companies.” The document did not disclose which companies were to benefit from this endeavor.
  • The Army Corps also plans to build a $25 million, 30,000-square yard airfield at Ft. Hood, Texas, for UAS deployment. The construction of a drone hangar facility separately is slated for that location.
  • The U.S. Air Force awarded a $26 million contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., which will conduct research and development for the agency’s Aircraft Structural Integrity Program. The project, which the company will carry out at its Poway, Calif., facility, seeks to make improvements to the MQ-9 Reaper System, which the Air Force describes as a “larger and more heavily armed than the Predator UAV.”
  • The creation of air- and underwater-based UAV-launch technologies is being explored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which on Aug. 5 will meet with industry representatives to discuss what is known as the “Hydra” R&D project. DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office will hold the Proposers’ Day event at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
  • Technological advances in the collection and analysis of surveillance data and images – particularly that which can be used aboard drones – are being sought by the Rome, N.Y.-based Air Force Research Lab, which seeks to fund contractor-led R&D projects in its Multi-Intelligence Exploitation and Correlation initiative. “Given current levels of activity, operational requirements, hostile environments, and resources being heavily tasked, collection systems will need to be developed for embedding on advanced collection platforms, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs),” the AFRL said in Broad Agency Announcement no. BAA-RIK-12-04.

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