Unmanned border flights suspended despite Bush call for more

Although President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff have touted the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for border security, recent problems with the technology indicate that UAVs face major challenges in their conversion to a domestic surveillance role, according to officials and budget documents.

In a speech to the nation in May, Bush said UAVs will be used to prevent illegal crossings into the United States. But the Border Patrol has not flown a UAV along the southern border since its only Predator B drone was destroyed in a crash outside of Nogales, Ariz., in late April, an agency spokesman said.

Although Bush announced that National Guard troops are being deployed to the border, the Guard is not providing any UAV assets, the spokesman added. Instead, the Border Patrol is now accelerating its plan to procure a new Predator B from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The spokesman said the agency will spend $6.5 million to buy the UAV this summer.

But UAV problems have not escaped attention in Congress. In the report accompanying their version of the fiscal 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill, House lawmakers noted the Predator crash and another, unspecified, mishap involving a UAV under development for the Coast Guard.

The report withholds $6.8 million for the Border Patrol to procure another UAV in fiscal 2007 until the agency reports findings of an investigation into the Predator crash, and implications of those findings for future UAV operations. The Coast Guard also was ordered to report on what caused the mishap of the developmental UAV and any implications that might have on the planned procurement of that drone.

The Predator crash is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, but preliminary results have revealed that it was caused by General Atomics operators, the Border Patrol spokesman said. General Atomics declined to comment for this article.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman said the other mishap occurred in April by a UAV under development by Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. She added, however, that the Coast Guard still plans to test that UAV in fiscal 2007 and begin procuring it in fiscal 2009.

Nonetheless, industry is heeding the threat posed by the House report as it adapts UAVs from mainly military missions abroad to broader domestic operations under the control of federal civilian agencies.

"The message and the language is being taken seriously. There's no discounting the message that's being sent," said Daryl Davidson, executive director of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Davidson said he believes the support for using UAVs domestically is strong, but challenges are emerging as they become more mainstream.

Some challenges include ensuring that UAVs are safe to operate, working out civilian airspace use with the Federal Aviation Administration, and appeasing private aircraft operators who view UAVs as imposing on their travel routes. He added that the funding restrictions in the House report are a concern, but believes that industry will work through the Senate or in conference to maintain support for UAV development and procurement.

"UAVs have been in the consideration and planning phase of homeland security and border security for years now, and I think they're finally getting to the point of procuring these systems," Davidson said. "We look at this as just the very beginning."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.