Border securityCBP wants more drones, but lawmakers want more details about their use

Published 6 December 2012

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) wants to have a fleet of twenty-four drones to patrol the northern and southern borders of the United States, but Congress has yet to appropriate funding beyond the first ten drones; so far in 2012, drones have been credited with leading to more arrests and drug seizures than ever before, but their contribution is still small

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency and a San-Diego area aeronautical company have agreed to a 5-year drone deal that could be worth more than $440 million according to a 1 November document on the federal government contracting opportunities Web site. $237 million of that will buy up to fourteen drones and other equipment; but it is not clear  whether the agency  will actually get the money.

The Huffington Post reports that Congress has yet to appropriate funding beyond the first ten drones and that CBP has not asked for any more drones in the 2013 fiscal year.

In an audit earlier this year, the DHS inspector general’s office recommended that CBP postpone buying drones until officials determine a budget plan for the program and how to use the drones in the most effective way.

The criticism of the deal angered a Texas congressman who has fought for the use of drones, and who is now asking CBP to come up with a detailed plan before the agency buys more drones. CBP wants to have a fleet of  twenty-four drones  to patrol both the  the northern and southern borders.

The U.S. military aside, CBP has been a leader among government agencies in the use of drones A recent  Federal Aviation Administration report predicted that 30,000 drones will be flying over America in less than twenty  years.

The Post notes that  CBP uses two kinds of drones, the Predator, which costs $18.5 million per plane, and the Guardian, which costs $20.5 million. The overall costs include a ground control station, surveillance, radar equipment, and maintenance. The maritime Guardian design is a major reason why General Atomics was awarded the contract.

During the 2012 fiscal year, which ended on 30 September, CBP drones,  which are controlled from bases in Arizona, North Dakota, and Texas, have been credited with 130 arrests, 1,408 apprehensions, and the seizure more than 58,000 pounds of drugs. In total the drones were in the air for more than 5,000 hours, the most ever in a single year.

The Post notes, though, that as good as these numbers are, they accounted for just a fraction of the overall numbers for CBP: the agency  seized more than five million pounds of drugs in total, and apprehended more than 340,000 people trying to cross the border in 2011.