Jeff and Christine's Homeland Security Blog

Homeland Security and Terrorism

Drones in the Sky or Boots on the Ground?

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Unmanned aircraft– Predator drones— have moved from the battlefield to the border.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will soon have six of the aircraft active in the effort to detect smugglers of humans and illegal drugs.

According to a 14 November 2011 Associated Press article by Christopher Sherman, the Predator program is credited with helping to apprehend more than 7,500 people and intercepting 46,600 pounds of illegal drugs since the first aircraft were deployed in 2005.  Here’s the article’s description of the Predator at work:

Two Border Patrol agents walked by a patch of brush on a remote ranch and saw nothing. But 19,000 feet overhead in the night sky, a Predator unmanned aircraft kept its heat-sensing eye on the spot…  

In an operations center about 80 miles away, all eyes were on a suspicious dark cluster on a video screen. Moments later, the drone operators triggered the craft’s infrared beam and pointed the agents directly to the undergrowth where two silent figures were hiding.

Officers involved with the program noted that the drones are affected by weather conditions, as are humans and other equipment, and that there are political sensitivities involved when their missions take them across the international border with Mexico.

The biggest issue, however, is price. Each Predator system, which includes the aircraft and its sensors and control equipment, costs $18.5 million.  According to the AP article, some Homeland Security specialists question whether the drones’ impact justifies the price tag:

“The big knock on the UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) program … is that it’s so expensive,” said T.J. Bonner, former president of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents’ union. He said the money would be better spent on more boots on the ground and manned aircraft.

As future Homeland Security professionals, what do you think?

One Response

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  1. This type of technology is great and it seems it is making an impact. The cost of the system is high and then you need to have trained professionals that can fly these unmanned aircraft remotely as well as deploying ground forces to suspect areas. The price tag goes up due to the salary of the “pilots” of these aircraft which will minimize the number of foot soldiers to apprehend suspects. There needs to be a balance found where technology and the human factor can come together and coexist for the smallest price possible without compromising safety and lower tech equipment for the foot soldiers.


    November 15, 2011 at 22:00

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