Tuesday, August 30, 2005

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after extensive evaluation, yesterday awarded a $14 million contract to a California firm to produce an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to assist in protecting the nation’s borders against terrorists, illegal aliens and drug smugglers.

Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal said General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of San Diego was contracted to produce the Predator B craft, which is expected to be deployed in support of the second phase of the Arizona Border Control initiative to curb illegal activities along the state’s southern border.

“We are determined to secure America’s borders and are constantly exploring new technologies that strengthen our ability to do our job,” said CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. “The UAV technology will give us eyes where we previously didn’t have them. This improves our ability to deter, detect and apprehend individuals conducting illegal activity, including smugglers, terrorists and people attempting to illegally enter our country.”

The second phase of the initiative targets the most popular immigration corridor into the United States, where more than half of the 1.15 million illegal aliens apprehended last year were caught. More than 2,000 Border Patrol agents have been assigned along a 260-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border, known as the Tucson sector, to combat the rise in the numbers of illegal aliens, drug smugglers and potential terrorists.

Mr. Villarreal described the initiative as an “unprecedented effort” by the U.S. government to increase the security of the nation’s borders, noting that CBP — which includes inspectors and agents at and between the nation’s ports of entry — has implemented several techniques designed to disrupt human smuggling activity, expand and spread out its enforcement operations and significantly improve the mobility of front-line Border Patrol agents.

He said the UAV will be equipped with state-of-the-art electro-optic sensors, communications payloads and sophisticated on-board sensors that will provide “unparalleled surveillance capability.” Flight operations will be controlled and monitored by Border Patrol agents, and the images received by the UAV will be viewed in real time and relayed to agents on the ground, Mr. Villarreal added.

This technology, he said, will supplement intrusion detection and intelligence-gathering devices that are being used along a particular section of the border and have proven highly successful in giving a detailed “bird’s eye view” of remote areas where agents cannot easily or safely travel.

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