THE Bureau of Customs (BoC) is now considering an offer from a company in Israel to provide the government with an advanced, integrated, ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ (UAV) or “drone” for multiple uses to include border and homeland security (HLS), disaster assessment and monitoring of high-sea piracy and smuggling.
In a talk with this writer, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) director Neil Estrella was enthusiastic in praising the capabilities and uses of the ‘Orbiter 3’ drone produced by Aeronautics Ltd.
Based in Yavne, central Israel, the company claims it is among the world’s leading makers of integrated UAS (unmanned aerial system) for use by the defense and civilian sectors.
“It has many ‘practical features’ that can be used not only by the bureau in our campaign against smuggling and border policing but also, by the national government for damage assessment of disaster-hit areas, among others,” the official said.
Estrella made the remarks after conducting a ‘comprehensive test’ of the Orbiter 3’s features in Clark, Pampanga last week.
Prior to this, the unit tested under local condition also underwent rigorous demonstrations in the desert of Israel before it was shipped to the Philippines some three weeks ago.
Among others, Estrella said the Orbiter 3 can ascend to a height of upwards to 20,000 feet, making it unseen by the naked eye even by smuggling syndicates armed with powerful binoculars while transporting contrabands in the high seas or crossing the country’s porous borders to bring in their illicit merchandise.
“It does not need a ‘runway’ to ascend into the air and it can even be launched by our men already out in the sea; it can ‘see through’ even under a dense cloud formation and can operate practically in any condition, day time or night time,” Estrella added.
In one test, he said the drone, which has an operational radius of 150 kilometers, gave a clear image of a person smoking a cigarette at night while cruising at a height of over 15,000 feet.
“Walang lusot ang mga smuggler dito,” Estrella enthused, adding getting advance technology for the bureau is among the goals of Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.
Estrella and Faeldon are both bemedalled former officers of the Philippine Marines with extensive combat experience in Mindanao. The two are familiar on how a drone can help soldiers accomplish their missions.
At a price of over P100 million, Estrella said the offer is “worth considering” for its advantages, adding an American company, whom he did not name, also express intention to offer UAV technology for the bureau’s use.
“If we can effectively address smuggling in the high seas thru this technology, it translates to higher revenue for the government, Estrella pointed out.
He added the drone would complement Faeldon’s initiative to acquire some 20 speedboats this year as part of his ‘capability upgrade’ for the bureau to secure the country’s borders while also addressing the country’s perennial problem with smuggling.