ByRANDAL C. ARCHIBOLDPublished: December 7, 2009PALMDALE, Calif. — To help spot and track smugglers, theHomeland Security Departmentisexpanding its use of drones, the unmanned aircraft widely used in Iraq and other war zones, beyond theMexican and Canadian borders to the Caribbean and possibly other seas.Ann Johansson for The New York TimesCapt. Steve Truhlar, left; Lt. Thomas Shuler; Adm. Jody Beckenridge; and a Predator B aircraft.The department, through itsCustoms and Border Protectiondivision, already operates five of theaircraft, known as the Predator B, along the Southwest border from a base in Arizona and the Canadian border from an installation in North Dakota.Like the drones used by the military, these drones can fly long ranges at high altitudes and are difficultto detect. But the drones that have been used at the border since 2005 are for surveillance and trackingand do not carry weapons.The department on Monday unveiled a new drone loaded with special radar, cameras and sensors. Builtfor $13.5 million by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems here, it is designed for maritime use. Itfeatures wide-range radar that gives a more sweeping view of the ocean than any of the government’sfleet of manned aircraft.The first maritime drones, about the size of a small turbo-prop commuter plane, will start flying inJanuary off Florida, a smuggling hotbed.A second drone is scheduled to take flight by summer in the Gulf of Mexico.Both ultimately will also be used to patrol off the coast of Central America and Mexico, where drugtraffickers use watercraft to bring cocaine from South America.Officials are not sure if the drones will be used off or over Southern California. While there has been anincrease recently in the smuggling of drugs and people on the seas there, congested airspace fromseveral commercial airports and military bases could make use of the drone difficult.A Customs drone — like all others controlled by human pilots from a remote location — that wasflying over a sparsely populated area crashed into an Arizona hillside about 100 yards from a house in2006, causing no injuries or property damage. The National Transportation Safety Boardattributed thecrash to human error and made several recommendations to make the program safer, most but not all of which were adopted by Customs and Border Protection.Still, Homeland Security officials praised the aircraft as a safe and important tool that over land hascontributed to the seizing of more than 22,000 pounds of marijuanaand the apprehension of 5,000illegal immigrants.