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Small Unmanned Aircraft System Assists Stratton Drug Interdictions

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Coast Guard Cutter Stratton’s long-range interceptor-II cutter boat approaches a suspected drug smuggling vessel

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton’s long-range interceptor-II cutter boat approaches a suspected drug smuggling vessel several hundred miles southwest of Acapulco, Mexico, Sept. 6, 2017, as recorded by the small unmanned aircraft system on board the cutter. U.S. Coast Guard graphic. Click here for the full video of the interdiction.


The small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) on board the national security cutter (NSC) Stratton aided interdictions in five of the 11 drug seizures it made during its recent deployment, which was part of a record offload of more than 50,550 pounds of cocaine, worth approximately $679.3 million, in San Diego today.

The sUAS on Stratton provided real-time imagery of suspected smuggling vessels – increasing the crew’s situational awareness, helping minimize safety concerns for interdiction assets and permitting greater efficiency in processing cases. The sUAS also supported prosecution efforts by helping the crew obtain video evidence, maintain continuous view of target vessels, and track jettisoned material more accurately.

The offload included drugs seized by four Coast Guard cutters, including the NSC James as well as Stratton, and one Navy ship. With this offload, the Coast Guard has intercepted more than 455,034 pounds of cocaine, worth over $6.1 billion, in fiscal year 2017, already beating the service’s previous record of 443,000 pounds from the previous fiscal year.

This deployment marked the second time that an sUAS was carried on board an NSC as an operational asset. The service’s sUAS for NSC acquisition program is still analyzing its options for integrating sUAS capability across the NSC fleet. “The deployment provided valuable performance and logistical information for the acquisition and underscored the operational value of sUAS on patrol,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Sullens, deputy program manager for the sUAS for NSC Program. 

The Coast Guard plans to release a request for proposal for sUAS for NSC capability in early fiscal year 2018. The contract award for the retrofit of Stratton and one additional NSC is targeted for later that fiscal year.

View sUAS footage of two of the interdictions here and here.

For more information: sUAS for NSC program page