Magazine article National Defense

Over the Horizon

Magazine article National Defense

Over the Horizon

Article excerpt

B-52 used to monitor suspicious ships approaching the U.S.

U.S. Strategic Command has found new homeland security missions for the Cold War era B-52H Stratofortress.

The bombers, many of which are now nearly 50 years old, have flown a "number of missions" to snap pictures of suspicious ships approaching U.S. waters, said Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder Jr., who leads the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Base, La., and the global strike joint functional component at U.S. Strategic Command.

"The Navy gives us a ship to locate based on a signature and we've gone out about 1 ,000 nautical miles from the coast ... to take a picture and ship it back," he told reporters in Washington.

Identifying U S. -bound ships farther out to sea has been a longtime goal of the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard.

The B-52 also saw action in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike last year when Predator unmanned aerial vehicles were grounded due to bad weather. A B-52 surveyed the damage in about four hours, he said.

"Right now we're moving toward where every platform is a sensor," Elder said. For example, every jet fighter carrying an electrooptical pod can take a picture and transmit it back to a command center.

This comes as the Coast Guard has been working toward a system that can track vessels from near shore to distances of 2,000 nautical miles out to sea.

Its efforts have faced some delays, and there is a chance that the multiple systems being employed will duplicate each other's data and create waste, a Government Accountability Office report found.

"While a certain amount of redundancy can be beneficial if it occurs by design, our previous work has found that unintended duplication indicates the potential for inefficiency and waste," the unclassified version of the report said.

There are four main systems being used or in the works. The automated identification system requires that vessels entering U. …

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