A Predator-B drone was added to patrol the border, bringing the total to four unmanned surveillance drones deployed along the Southwest border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection increased increased the power of the fleet of unmanned surveillance aircraft deployed along the Southwest border. The UAV is based at the National Air Security Operations Center in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Officials said drone flights from this location provide aerial surveillance for U.S. border security officers on the ground along the border.
The drones assist with counter-drug operations and other Homeland Security missions, including disaster relief and humanitarian support.
The UAV's have led to seizures of about 46,600 pounds of illegal drugs and the detention of about 7,500 people suspected of taking part in illegal activities along the border, officials said, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Reports came out of Washington last week stating the use of drones along the Mexico border would be increasing and flying six miles into Mexico for the purpose of surveillance for illegal drug trafficking and undocumented migrants attempting to cross the border. The cost of these operations is getting criticism, however.
With the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security announcing the end of an 18-month deployment of more than 1,000 National Guard ground troops assisting the Border Patrol over the next two months, the Obama administration announced it will increase its drone presence along the country’s southwest border, which has now taken place according to the report to the Arizona news source.
The Drone Caucus, a bipartisan group formed in 2009, insists use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), should be dramatically increased, not just abroad in the war on terror, but along U.S. borders as well. There are currently eight drones along the U.S. borders, covering Washington to Minnesota to the north, where there are three, and from California to Louisiana at the south, where there are five, reported in the thedigital journal.
Michael Kostelnick, a retired major general and assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Air and Marine, said the drones being used along the US borders are identical to those used in Pakistan and other overseas regions, with the exception they do not carry weapons and the government does not intend to weaponize them, according to the Tucson Sentinel.
Kostelnick John Fitzpatrick, Tucson Border Patrol Division Chief, said there is no accurate assessment of how valuable the drones are in relation to border security, but noted, “Whenever the aircraft shows up, the agents on the ground are more successful and more efficient in what they do. It gives us a lot of capabilities we didn’t have before,” the Sentinel reports.
Critics Say Drones “Aren’t worth the money.”
However, critics of the US border drone program have offered hard numbers challenging Fitzpatrick’s assessment. Using information supplied by a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report and statistics from the Homeland Security Department, drones along the US borders have led to the apprehension of 238 drug smugglers and 4,865 undocumented immigrants since the border drone program began six years ago.
By comparison, in fiscal 2011 there were 327,577 undocumented migrants caught along the southwest border, translating into drone success being a minute fraction of such arrests.
Additionally, these drones cost $3,600 per hour of flight time, equating into about $7,054 for each undocumented migrant or smuggler caught. Each drone costs around $20 million. According to the GAO report, the government has spent $240 million for purchase and maintenance of the domestic drones, not including operation of the drones.
“Congress and the taxpayers ought to demand some kind of real cost-benefit analysis of drones,” said Washington Post reports. “My sense is that they would conclude these aircraft aren't worth the money.”, trans-border project director at the Center for International Policy, who has researched the country’s domestic Predator drone program, the