Border UAVs take off

Last week, Homeland Security Department officials started flying robotic aircraft to monitor the country's southwest border for illegal immigration, drug trafficking and terrorist activity.

On June 25, DHS' Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol unit began using Israeli-made unmanned aerial vehicles leased from the Defense Department for the Arizona Border Control Initiative. Two Hermes 450 UAVs now assist patrol officers in surveillance, according to an agency statement.

"The development of the UAVs in protecting the borders of the U.S. demonstrates the commitment this [Bush] administration has to testing new technologies and systems to better secure America," said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security.

UAVs resemble huge model airplanes and carry cameras and sensors to monitor people and vehicle movements. The robotic aircraft sends the images to personnel watching the situation from a ground station.

The four-month initiative costs $4 million. The Border Patrol is testing UAVs for now. Agency officials plan to release a solicitation to purchase the vehicles early next year and hope to award the contract next spring.

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