UAV Round-upPredator B to return to the Arizona skies

Published 20 October 2006

Six months after a crash cast doubt on UAV reliability and cost, DHS is ready to try again; Predator B a government favorite despite problems, and two others are scheduled for delivery soon

Back to work. This coming November, six months after the Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) taking part in immigration-related surveillance crashed in the Arizona desert, DHS will try again with a second craft. Reliability has been an issue with UAVs generally, but National Transportation Safety Board officials cited “pilot” error as the cause of the 24 April event, and the recently-delivered drone has been going through extensive tests and evaluation, as presumably are its controllers. The Predator B, with its thirty-plus hours of uninterrupted flight time, is not cheap — the $20 million allocated in the 2007 DHS appropriations will purchase only four of them — but San Diego-based manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GAAS) has impressed planners with the craft’s adaptability. Other versions of the craft are in use for military and naval operations, including the Altair (high-altitude scientific research), the Mariner (interdiction and search and rescue), and the MQ-9 (hunt and destroy surveillance).

The news comes on the heels of a new $33.9 million GAAS Customs and Border Protection contract for two more Predator Bs, to be delivered in the fall of 2007. Each drone, Washington Technology reports, will be equipped with a camera system, ground control station, support equipment and logistics support. This is good news for GAAS and good news for UAVs in general. The April crash had cast grave doubt on the future of UAVs on the southern border, and there is reason to believe it was critical in DHS’s decision to award the recent SBINet contract to Boeing, which, in comparison to other bidders, minimized their use. We have little doubt that UAVs will eventually play a critical role in immigration enforcement, and we are glad that the Predator B is back on its feet and ready to prove itself once again.

-read more in Alice Lipowicz’s Washington Technology report