HOMELAND SECURITY: Patrolling the Border (Updated)

March 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

Lawmakers Want More UAVs

Customs and Border Protection photo

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may have scrapped its plan for a virtual fence of sensors and cameras to monitor the U.S. border with Mexico, but DHS officials and members of Congress are very still very high on unmanned aircraft as a surveillance tool.

The top Republican and Democrat on the House subcommittee that oversees border security both say they are impressed by the work unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) do patrolling the Southwest border.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a unit of DHS, operates seven unarmed Predator B UAVs. Three are based in Sierra Vista, Arizona, two more are based along the border with Canada and there are two maritime variants based in Texas and Florida.

Michael Kostelnik, head of CBP’s Air & Marine Office, says the Predator Bs are force multipliers allowing U.S. authorities to monitor vast stretches of desert, woodlands and ocean for up to 20 hours.

Kostelnik said the UAVs, if flying over Japan’s earthquake and tsunami-damaged nuclear facilities could supply “unprecedented situational awareness” through their full motion video cameras and high definition radars.

Both the chairwoman of the Homeland Security subcommittee of border and maritime security, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Minnesota) and the senior Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said they were impressed by the CBP UAVs.

I’m happy to get you more UAVs,” said Cuellar, who described himself as a “big supporter.”

There is no money requested for UAVs in the Fiscal 2012 Homeland Security budget. The aircraft, which go for about $18 million apiece, require a crew of two — a pilot and sensor operator. Kostelnik, a former Air Force major general and NASA official, said CBP and the military services are having trouble training enough pilots fast enough to remotely operate the growing inventory of unmanned aircraft.

He said it takes CBP about $3,500 per flight hour to operate a UAV, compared to $7,000 per hour for its manned aircraft. “The longer you can fly, the more economical it is,” Kostelnik said of the UAVs, which can remain aloft up to 20 hours.

In addition to UAVs, Miller, the chairwoman, said her subcommittee intended to explore the potential of using “robotic land systems” on the southern border.

 

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Entry filed under: Aircraft, Homeland Security, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems, Washington, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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