Intelligence: Mexico Buys Long Eyes


February 18, 2009: Mexico has bought $30 million worth of aerial surveillance equipment from Israel, for its Federal Police. Most of the money goes for two systems; the Skystar 300 aerostat and the Orbiter UAV. The Skystar 300 is a portable aerostat system. Using a three man crew, a truck carrying the gear can inflate the aerostat in 20 minutes, and get it up to an altitude of 1,000 feet (which means its cameras can see out to about sixty kilometers.) The aerostat can carry a hundred pounds of sensors. This can include day or night cameras (including a thermal sensor). In rural areas, the Skystar 300 enables the police to quickly get persistent aerial surveillance over a large area (2800 square kilometers.) A camera with a powerful zoom lens enables the operator to get a close look at anything down there.

The 14.3 pound Orbiter UAV is battery powered and launched by a catapult, and lands via parachute and airbag. It can stay aloft for up to three hours (with the lighter day camera) and operate up to 15 kilometers from the operator. It can fly as high as 3,000 meters. Usually it flies at 200-1,500 meters. It is one meter long and has a wing span of 2.2 meters. The Orbiter carries a color vidcam, with night vision and a 10x zoom. The operator can direct the camera to keep watching a particular point, and initially programs a flight path to send the UAV to a patrol area. The hand held controller has a large screen and video game-like controls. One Orbiter system consists of three aircraft and a controller (plus spare batteries and a lighter daylight camera). Max speed is 135 kilometers an hour, but usually it flies at 45-120 kilometers an hour.

UAVs are very popular with peacekeepers because a large part of the job is keeping track of lots of people. This has to be done with innocent civilians, and armed groups of bad guys. The civilians and hostiles often have no way to communicate over long distances, so the UAV is a lot more efficient than manned aircraft for tracking everyone down. The Mexican federal police have a lot of wide open spaces they have to patrol, as well as some densely populated rural areas. The Orbiter works well in both.





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