Page last updated at 14:00 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Forces considering drone aircraft

Unmanned military-style drone
Kent and Essex police forces are leading the drone partnership

Unmanned military-style drones could be used by police forces to help combat illegal immigration and drug smugglers along Britain's coastlines.

The Unmanned Autonomous Systems (UAS), have been used by British troops in Afghanistan to monitor enemy action.

A version could be in use by 2012 to boost maritime surveillance and border controls under a partnership led by Kent and Essex Police and BAE Systems.

BAE Systems said on Thursday it was working with the two police forces.

The collaboration is part of the South Coast Partnership, which also includes the UK Border Agency, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Marine and Fisheries Agency.

The UAS could be programmed to operate at up to 20,000ft to detect ships and relay high resolution images to police in control rooms.

'Significant role'

Unlike manned police helicopters, which can fly for only a few hours, the UAS can stay in the air for up to 15 hours.

"This partnership is exploring new approaches in terms of police aviation," said Ch Insp Richard Watson, of Kent Police.

"UAS have the potential to perform a significant role and it is important to work alongside authorities such as the Civil Aviation Authority and companies like BAE Systems.

"It makes good sense for us all to contribute to it and share the costs and benefits."

The UAS can be programmed with specific missions and can take off, fly and land at the click of a mouse, the partnership said.

Unmanned military-style drone
Two types of drone could be adapted for use by police forces

BAE systems is looking to adapt two main UAS - the HERTI, which is said to be best for border and coastal patrol and the GA22 for hovering above big events such as music festivals.

Andrew Mellors, head of civil autonomous systems at BAE Systems, said: "A potential scenario where the technology could be used by police is where you have a suspect ship trying to enter the UK.

"The UAS can be instructed to search for and detect certain suspicious behaviours and alert the maritime authorities immediately."

The use of UAS would initially concentrate on two roles - identifying and monitoring shipping in the English Channel and policing illegal entry to and from the UK.

A UK Border Agency (UKBA) spokesman said: "We are exploring all options, but at this stage UKBA has not made any commitment to using unmanned aircraft along the south coast."

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