Drones may fly patrols on border of U.S., Mexico
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    Cool Drones may fly patrols on border of U.S., Mexico

    Drones may fly patrols on border of U.S., Mexico
    Jon Kamman
    The Arizona Republic
    Apr. 22, 2003

    They've proved their worth by scouting hostile territory in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, firing lethal missiles in the war on terrorism, and flying round-the-clock reconnaissance.

    Before long, unmanned aircraft, or drones, may be patrolling the nation's borders to protect against intruders of any type.

    "I am extremely supportive of the idea," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., a member of the newly created Homeland Security Committee and chairman of a subcommittee that will have a major say in what kinds of equipment will be pressed into service.

    Until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, most security measures along the U.S.-Mexican border were aimed at two categories of people: drug smugglers and countless undocumented migrants seeking work in the United States. After the attacks, terrorists became the most serious focus.

    Shadegg said two recent visits to the Mexican border underscored for him that "we don't have anything approaching control of that border."

    Less than half a mile from border stations, fences are riddled with holes large enough to drive vehicles through, he said, and beyond there, fencing often is missing.

    Support for putting electronic eyes in the sky is building in Congress, Shadegg said.

    Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Service Committee, wrote President Bush this month saying the case for non-military use of unmanned aerial vehicles is "compelling," but he emphasized that privacy concerns also must be addressed.

    Technological marvels

    Rapid advancements in the range, endurance and reliability of drones have endeared them to the military in the past decade.

    Various models have been built, at least experimentally, to carry heavy payloads, stay in the air for days, soar at altitudes of 100,000 feet, sneak under radar, cross the Pacific non-stop, or explore concealed military depots, all the while beaming back startlingly detailed photos, video, infrared and radar images to controllers.

    The most widely known craft is the Predator, used by U.S. forces, NATO and U.N. peacekeepers since first being put into action in Bosnia in 1995.

    The Predator, many generations removed from hobbyists' model airplanes, is a super-sophisticated system that costs an average of $4.5 million, counting both the aircraft and a truckload worth of control equipment.

    The machine's "pilots" can maneuver it over several hundred miles and order imaging equipment to take a close look at anything of interest, day or night, with clear or overcast skies.

    The vehicle, about 7 feet tall and 27 feet long, has a wingspan of 49 feet and can fly for more than 24 hours at 25,000 feet.

    Defense Department officials say it can fly about 400 miles and circle for 14 hours before returning to base.

    The Predator became a star in the war on terrorism in November when the CIA used it to deliver a Hellfire missile onto a car in Yemen, killing a top al-Qaida operative and five other suspected terrorists.

    Flying limited now

    Air patrols along the Mexican border now are conducted sporadically by fixed-wing aircraft and aging Black Hawk helicopters, which Shadegg said pose disadvantages of costly operation, limited range and relatively short periods for staying aloft.

    "High tech, including drones, is precisely where we should be going," Shadegg said.

    As chairman of the emergency preparedness and response subcommittee, "I want to put all my energy into looking at high-tech ways to stop incidents from occurring, or detect them the instant they occur," such as in cases of sabotage of water supplies or unleashing of chemical agents, he said.

    Whether the military would have a role in border overflights remains to be decided, but Shadegg said surveillance most likely would be conducted and used only by agencies of the new Department of Homeland Security.

    After testing drones in south Texas during the late 1990s, Border Patrol officials decided against using them. But Asa Hutchinson, the nation's top border security official in Homeland Security, told Congress last month, "I think that we have to revisit some of this technology since September 11th and see if it has greater application."

    Mario Villareal, a spokesman for the Bureau of Customs and Border, said Border Patrol agents are using drones for specific investigations along the northern and southwestern borders.

    Last summer, agents teamed up with the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement agencies in Idaho to break up a drug-smuggling ring that involved undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Canada. A drone operated by the U.S. Marine Corps was used to do surveillance work.

    Flight paths and safety

    Besides privacy concerns on both sides of the border, a number of issues remain to be resolved.

    One is to create a relatively narrow air corridor to ensure safe flight paths for both drones and regular aircraft. An especially sensitive area is the Air Force's Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range, which already limits border-enforcement flights.

    The Defense Department and Federal Aviation Administration began conferring this month on how to restructure longstanding rules that have complicated efforts to use unmanned aircraft.

    Safety is another question. An industry group reports that drones, although improving in reliability, crash at least 10 times more often as manned aircraft.

    The ability to spot surreptitious border crossers anywhere at any time would be a powerful tool to combat drug smuggling and illegal migration, but enforcement would require sufficient ground forces, too.

    The Border Patrol, now part of Homeland Defense, recently was authorized to add 139 agents along the Arizona-Sonora border.

    "You're going to see more personnel, but also . . . more high-technology equipment down on the border," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said at a news conference this month.

    "You may see unmanned drones."

    Shadegg wouldn't predict how soon drone patrols could be launched but said, "If we can build enough support for them, I think they could be up pretty quick."

    Gannett News Service correspondent Sergio Bustos contributed to this article.

    Reach the reporter at jon.kamman@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-4816.



  2. #2
    If a predator hits one of these big mosquitoes down here-it's all over.

  3. #3


    If we do the southern border, will we also do the north.
    All the terrorists of 9/11/01 came in through the north not the south.
    Then we have to think of both coast as smugglers have used those for centuries.
    We'll have more drones flying over the US of A than aircraft.
    DRUGS are a big problem, but there would be no PROBLEM.
    If there was no demand by users in the US of A.
    BIG MONEY buys off a lot of people.
    That why those big holes occur.
    I still think that all this is OVERKILL.
    Will next see armed drones to shoot a few poor workers seeking a better life?

    Semper Fidelis

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