Border agency seeks more unmanned aircraft use in Calif.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are looking to expand the use of remotely piloted surveillance aircraft to cover nearly all of California, allowing the unmanned vehicles to fly over the last major section of the Southwest border.
The agency’s Office of Air and Marine expects the Federal Aviation Administration this year to permit it to extend its unmanned aircraft operations into airspace just east of the San Diego metropolitan area, border agency spokeswoman Gina Gray said.
Hailed by some, including U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., for their cutting-edge technology, the unmanned aircraft’s expense – and efficacy – has been criticized by others.
At a cost of $18.5 million each to operate – including radar and sensor systems, maintenance, a ground control station, and the aircraft itself – the unmanned aircraft have been credited with helping to seize 46,600 pounds of illicit drugs and catching a relatively small number of people, 7,500, engaged in illegal activity along the border since late 2005.
Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection