Border patrol drone program plagued with problems

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency failed to adequately plan for its unmanned aircraft capabilities, resulting in poor support for its surveillance program, according to a May 30 report from the Homeland Security Department Inspector General.

“CBP had not adequately planned resources needed to support its current unmanned aircraft inventory,” the report noted.

As a result, the IG has recommended CBP stop buying drones until the problems can be taken care of.

The agency’s concept of operations planning didn’t properly address a number of processes, including those that would ensure sufficient support for missions, allow stakeholders to submit requests for unmanned missions, prioritize missions or get reimbursement for missions carried out on stakeholders’ behalf, according to the report.

“CBP needs to improve planning of its unmanned aircraft system program to address its level of operation, program funding and resource requirements, along with stakeholder needs,” the IG report stated. “CBP procured unmanned aircraft before implementing adequate plans.”

The report went on to detail just how poorly planned the unmanned program was: Given that CBP had seven aircraft in operation, it should have been able to fly 10,000 hours’ worth of missions per year. Instead, the agency flew less than 4,000 hours in the year under review.

CBP also doesn’t have a consistent budget for operating the unmanned surveillance program, and has had to draw funding – about $25 million – from other areas. But that hasn’t stopped the agency from continuing to purchase drones, regardless of the lacking use.

“Despite the current underutilization of unmanned aircraft, CBP received two additional aircraft in late 2011 and was awaiting delivery of a tenth aircraft in 2012,” Anne Richards, assistant inspector general for audits, wrote in the report. “This has resulted in a budget shortfall. As a result of CBP’s insufficient funding approach, future UAS missions may have to be curtailed.”

Between 2006 and 2011, was spent on $55.3 million for drone operations and maintenance. In total, Congress has appropriated more than $240 million to establish the unmanned aircraft program within CBP. Each drone cost roughly $18 million, according to the report.

CBP has stated that it agrees with the IG’s recommendations.

“CBP’s unmanned aircraft system program provides command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability to support personnel and capabilities on the ground. CBP concurred with the recommendations in the Inspector General’s report and is committed to continuing to improve the UAS program,” CBP spokesman Michael Friel said, per an ABC News report.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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