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Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for border control, surveillance, and humanitarian operations could provide the Armed Force of Malta (AFM) with capabilities beyond those possible with a strictly manned force, according to a research paper on UAV strategy.

Stefano Basilico, a Newcastle University graduate, has researched the use of UAVs for border control. According to him, by implementing a drone strategy, the AFM would be better able to improve existing strategy as well as benefit from facilitated operations.

“A General Atomic MQ-1B Predator, one of the most-used drones by the United States Air Force, could stay airborne up to 24 hours, flying at a maximum ceiling of 25,000 feet, with a cruise speed of 70 knots.”

The majority of the AFM’s aircraft are significantly faster the the Predator, however their endurance is 84% lower than of the UAV. “Most military UAVs can fly for almost 24 hours, with the chance to shift the aircrew – which guarantees more concentration,” Basilico pointed out.

A US Navy drone became the first unmanned aircraft to be successfully refuelled mid-air in April 2015, opening up avenues for UAVs to stay airborne for increasingly longer periods of time.

This, according to Basilico, could allow countries like Malta – with much more limited military capabilities than larger counties – to execute complex, large-scale operations.

“Such high-technology, un-manned vehicles, able to fly for almost 24 hours, would have more chance of detecting vessels and people, and to call for help in case of shipwreck,” he said.

The AFM’s Air Wing and Maritime Squadrons would handle UAV deployment, they “have pilots with the technical and operational knowledge to fly the unmanned vehicles, and it would be possible for the AFM to maintain a very similar hierarchical framework in this context,” Basilico said.