The U.S. military has long been deeply involved in counter-drug operations in the Southern Hemisphere, coordinated by a multi-agency task force based in Key West, Florida. Navy ships and Air Force jets use their radar to track and run down smugglers, though for legal reasons the actual arrests are carried out by the Coast Guard, civilian agencies or officials from other countries.
In March, the military said it would reduce patrols and sorties in Latin America and the Caribbean because of the automatic spending cuts imposed by Congress, another argument for increased use of aerial surveillance devices like the aerostat and drone, officials said.
Representatives on the Swift from both contractors declined to say what their systems cost. But they said each can be run at a fraction of the cost of the fixed-wing planes or helicopters usually dispatched to check out suspected smugglers.