|Govt to spend $600M for ’copters, UAVs |
By JULIEN NEAVES Friday, May 9 2014
CABINET has approved the purchase of six helicopters and four Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones) for the National Operations Centre (NOC) that would cost about $600 million, reported National Security Minister Gary Griffith.
He told Newsday yesterday the cost of the six helicopters is $500 million which is less than the overall cost for one of the Augusta helicopters “which we are not able to use effectively because some bright person decided to put them under a civilian licence” when they were first acquired. He explained that because the helicopters — acquired in 2011 — were under the civilian licence they cannot be used as they should.
He said the four UAVs, which are 10 times more sophisticated than the airship or “blimp”, acquired under the previous People’s National Movement administration for intelligence gathering, had a budget of $87 million. He noted both assets were being selected via an “air asset acquisition team” that had been specially selected based on their knowledge and expertise in the field.
He announced the helicopters and UAVs yesterday at the post-Cabinet media briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair.
Griffith said the current four aircraft had been provided by three different manufacturers but the new helicopters will be provided by a single manufacturer which will be safer, more effective and cheaper. He also reported the current aircraft were more than 30 years old and obsolete, scarce and expensive components have to be sourced increasing operational costs and decrease the availability of the aircraft for use as needed.
He said they have seen the value of the NOC Air Division in many different operations including reconnaissance patrols for law enforcement agencies, monitoring operations and providing immediate real time video footage which is passed on to law enforcement agencies on the ground.
“So by going ahead in this manner what we will do is to ensure more success in the operations,” he added.
He noted Cabinet considered the acquisition of the UAVs to augment NOC air support to national security law enforcement efforts and other assistance. He said this is subject to the development, approval and implementation of legislation and regulation to govern the use of UAVs in this country’s airspace.
He noted the UAVs will be of significant value to add to national security apparatus for remote sensing, reconnaissance, surveillance, deterrence and early warning purposes.
He said the small UAVs will be the first of its kind in this country and we are “moving with the times”. He said before there were “blimps, defective radar, defective fast patrol vessels, defective offshore patrol vessels, defective interceptors they will now have UAVs, ensuring no blind spots in the radar system, effective 50-metre patrol vessels, effective long range patrol vessels and high tech interceptors”.
“So with the use of the UAVs it is going to play a phenomenal role in ensuring real time information, intelligence gathering, monitoring what is happening and being able to assist as well in our border protection,” he said. He also reported they formed implementation team based on the findings from the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup.
Finance Minister Larry Howai told the media that he emphasised to Griffith that he expected adherence to the arrangements of continuous maintenance. On the costs he said it was important to give national security the equipment they need to address the country’s most frustrating problem: crime.