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2012 counterterrorism: NYPD acquires fleet of underwater drones

by: jim kouri | published: 01 06, 2012

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The nation's largest, most sophisticated law enforcement agency, the New York City Police Department, announced its acquisition of new, high-tech equipment to help police officers keep the city safe from terrorists: the NYPD’s Harbor Unit now possesses six unmanned underwater drones to help bomb technicians and emergency services unit officers to detect suspected underwater explosives.

The NYPD now possesses six underwater drones, with each costing between $75,000 and $120,000 depending on the drones' capabilities.

These drones help to sweep the city’s waterways and bridges searching for possible bombs and IEDs (improvised explosive devices). In a recent drone demonstration, NYPD officers easily tossed the lightweight -- sixteen pound -- submersible equipped with lights and sonar into the harbor and sailed it beneath the hull of a large commercial tanker docked close to the Kings County (Brooklyn) Army Terminal.

The police officers showed that they were able to guide the drone via remote control in order to utilize its underwater camera to search below the ship. The drone operators, all of whom are veteran detectives, have been trained to identify what biological or radiological weapons look like and where underwater explosives or narcotics are most likely to be hidden.

Under Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and later his replacement Ray Kelly, the Harbor Unit is used more in performing counterterrorism operations than the unit is used to conduct rescue and recovery operations.

On most days the unit receives several security alerts from the police department's Intelligence Division each day. This situation demands that the unit inspects suspicious boats below bridges, sweep an incoming cargo ship’s hull, or respond to a report of a "suspicious floating package."

With thousands of cargo ships entering New York Harbor and millions of shipping containers being delivered, the law enforcement recognizes the reality that New York's harbor and waterways are prime terrorist targets.

Should the police find a suspected underwater device they have been instructed to call in the U.S. Navy, since NYPD bomb squad members are not trained to neutralize underwater explosives.

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