HOMELAND SECURITY: Protecting the Southern Border [UPDATE]

October 8, 2014 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

More Eyes in the Sky.

Tethered aerostat before deployment in Puerto Rico. (CBP photo)

Tethered aerostat before deployment in Puerto Rico. (CBP photo)

UPDATES with links to background information, photo of Multi-role Enforcment Aircraft.

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security’s aviation chief says he would like to add a ninth tethered surveillance balloon to the radar-equipped, counter narcotics warning system along the southern U.S. border.

Randolph Alles, head of Customs and Border Protection’s Air & Marine Office, says he’d like to anchor the balloon, known as a tethered aerostat, on an island off the Southern California coast near the Mexican border — but it all depends on future funding, he told a homeland security conference Tuesday (October 7).

The low band radar-equipped Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) costs about $35 million a year to operate. “That’s not enough to keep the system going at current speed,” Alles told the Homeland Security Week conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).

TARS was created in the 1980s by U.S. Customs – then part of the Treasury Department – to interdict cross border narcotics traffickers using small, low-flying airplanes. The lighter-than-air aerostats, once tethered to the ground by a cable, are stationed between 12,000 and 15,000 feet above the ground. The Defense Department took over the program in the 1990s and last year it was turned over to CBP, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Six of the current eight aerostat sites are located along the Southwest Border at Yuma and Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Deming, New Mexico; Marfa, Eagle Pass, and Rio Grande City, Texas. There are also two additional sites monitoring the Caribbean — in the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico. Alles said it would cost about $15 million to acquire a new site and the aerostat, sensors and support equipment – not counting annual operating costs.

Alles, an assistant CBP commissioner and retired Marine Corps major general, says TARS needs a radar upgrade. While the system on board now is fine for tracking airplanes, he wants to get a maritime radar that can track vessels approaching the United States on the water.

The radar replacement is just one of the plans Alles has for improving sensors on all of CBP’s aircraft and maritime vessels. A  10-year capitalization program draws to an end in 2016. Alles said he and Air & Marine staff are working on a new recapitalization plan.

Alles’ goal is to integrate sensors with all CBP aviation platforms, including the P-3 Orion and Dash 8 fixed wing aircraft, Blackhawk helicopters and the Predator unmanned aircraft system. But so far, only $44 million is being sought in the next  federal budget for two more King Air 350 twin-engine Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft, equipped with wide area marine search radar with air search capability and a ground moving target indicator..

Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft (CBP Photo)

Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft (CBP Photo)

 

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Entry filed under: Aircraft, Homeland Security, National Security and Defense, Technology, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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