Border Patrol Looking To Expand Unmanned Air Drone Operations With Department of Defense

While a recent Narco News report states that the Central Intelligence Agency may be using faulty “hacked” programming code made for operating its unmanned Predator drone aircraft, there's also the matter of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which is seeking to strengthen its partnership with the Department of Defense (DOD) to better monitor the US-Mexico border with surveillance drones.

Retired Air Force Major General Michael C. Kostelnik, who is now assistant commissioner to the Border Patrol's Air and Marine office, stated before a House of Representatives subcommittee last month that three specific DOD programs “are being tested or adopted” by the Border Patrol to enhance homeland security operations.

The first program, according to Kostelnik, “would provide CBP with a radar capability with active, near-real time vehicle and dismounted change detection, to support border ground operations, especially in areas subject to high levels of border violence.” In other words, the agency would be able to use DOD radar for its drone aircraft to better see what's happening on the ground.

The second tool would provide better navigation for the drones, with DOD “enhanced signals direction-finding capabilities that could be used both over land and during coastal and long range maritime operations.”

Third, there's a DOD “information and video” network, which will be relayed from a “variety of aviation platforms and sensors” and be used to provide the CBP with “detailed analysis” and the ability “coordinate aviation mission assignments” for “broad border area campaigns and major events.” The network is based off of a system used by the Air Force, according to the assistant commissioner. The first CBP “cell” in the network is expected be located at the agency's Air and Marine Operations Center n Riverside, Cailf. and be operational by the end of the year.

The Border Patrol has worked with the armed forces before—most notably with the Coast Guard, which partnered with the CBP in obtaining a more advanced “Guardian” drone, an offshore version of the Predator craft. The two agencies also share resources, including office space and aviators, according to congressional testimonies.

However, the most recent plans by the Border Patrol to use these DOD resources represents a new terrain in drone technology for the US-Mexico border.

More on the Border Patrol drone program:

  • The agency has used Predator drones for more than 5 years, and over 6,500 flight hours have been logged so far. The drones can be airborne for approximately 20 hours at a time. Unlike other models, the Border Patrol states that these drones do not carry missiles.

  • The Border Patrol currently operates six drone aircraft—five are for land operations and the other one is used for maritime operations. A second maritime unit is expected to be delivered before the end of the year, and the President's 2011 budget calls for a third one.

  • Since 2005, the main operating base for the drone program has been the US Army's Fort Huachuca, near Sierra Vista, Ariz. Three drones are located there.

  • Two aircraft are located at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota to monitor the US-Canada border.



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About Erin Rosa


Erin Rosa is a writer from Denver, Colorado based in the Western Hemisphere.