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Obama deploying drones around U.S.

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: