Howard Altman
Tampa Tribune
September 17, 2012

The Guardian can fly for up to 20 hours at a time, using less fuel than manned aircraft. (Howard Altman)

To the agents of Customs and Border Protection, the future of the United States’ war on smugglers looks like this: a 36-foot-long, flat-gray flying machine with a 400-pound radar array under its belly. It has no windshield and no pilot on board.

The aircraft, housed in Hangar F, is an unmanned aerial vehicle, more commonly known as a drone. This particular one is a Guardian, an unarmed, maritime version of the Predator B drones the U.S. military has been using for years to spy on — and kill — enemies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.

[…] The agency’s drone program is not without critics. The program includes the Guardian system, which costs $18 million with the radar and ground station, another like it in Corpus Christi, Texas, and seven Predator Bs spread across three other bases.

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