Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another drone will patrol Mexico border

Ross D. Franklin AP
This Predator was photographed in 2007 at Fort

McALLEN — Texas will receive a second unmanned drone by the end of the year to patrol its 1,254-mile border with Mexico for drug and human trafficking, two congressmen announced Wednesday. 

The Predator drone, along with another to be based in Arizona, will bring to six the number of unmanned U.S. planes making daily surveillance flights along the Southwest border. 

The drones have overlapping territory, meaning “on any given day there could be three or more aircraft in Texas,” Maj. Gen. Michael Kostelnik, who oversees the program for Customs and Border Protection, testified during a Tuesday congressional hearing. “And they’re routinely now flying nightly not only in the Rio Grande Valley but up through Laredo and up to El Paso.” 

The new Texas drone will be based with the existing one at Naval Station Corpus Christi. Texas’ first drone split its time between patrolling the gulf coast and the border. 

The Predator can fly for 20 hours without refueling, extending by many hours the surveillance capability of a helicopter. The planes are controlled remotely by flight crews. 

Texas congressmen Michael McCaul, R-Austin, Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in April to place two newly funded drones in Texas. Kostelnik confirmed Tuesday that Texas would get one. 

In addition to the two total in Texas, four also will be based in Sierra Vista, Ariz., Kostelnik said. 

“Technology is part of the long-term solution to securing the border,” McCaul said in a prepared statement. He said the additional drone in Texas “will provide both federal and state law enforcement more of the surveillance capabilities they desperately require to get the upper hand on drugs and human trafficking coming north and the guns and cash that fund and arm the drug cartels going south.”

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