CBP expands drone presence

Wednesday - 12/28/2011, 9:40pm EST

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio
@jmooreWFED

Customs and Border Protection announced it's added a ninth unmanned aircraft to its inventory of aircraft.

The new Predator-B Unmanned Aerial System will be the fourth launched at the National Air Security Operations Center in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and the second of two aircrafts earmarked in an August 2010 budget supplemental.

CBP operates six of the drones along the Southwest border. The agency, part of the Homeland Security Department, said it chose Arizona to receive the aircraft because "it will allow for the greatest support" in securing the border between U.S. and Mexico and "will allow for the most effective execution of counter-drug operations and homeland security missions."

The agency's UAS program was created with the first launch of a Predator-B along the Southwest border in 2005. Since then, CBP drones have logged more than 12,000 hours surveilling the border, led to 7,500 arrests and become an ever more integral part of CBP's mission.

In January, when DHS announced the cancellation of the Secure Border Initiative-Net — the costly and unwieldy electronic border fence — unmanned aircraft were among some of the elements retained in the scaled-back successor to the border plan.

Long thought of mostly as a foreign policy tool, the increased presence of drones in border security led the Washington Post to characterize their use as "the semi-covert cutting edge of homeland security."

RELATED STORIES:

DoD saving CBP's bottom line

DHS ends SBINet virtual fence

Predator drones help CBP along all borders