The U.S. military and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been using surveillance blimps, known as aerostats, for many years. However, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) may be considering using them as well, based upon an agency request for information.
KGBT 4 reported that DPS started soliciting information in December 2015 on “small, rapidly deployable persistent surveillance systems,” according to documents published by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The request seeks information on balloons light enough for a medium truck to tow and simple enough for a three-man crew to operate.
A request for information, known as an RFI is just that—a very common step taken by a government agency to collect data that will help it determine the utility of a certain thing. RFIs are commonly issued when technology is involved, as agencies need to understand a platform’s capabilities, and more importantly, cost. The issuance of an RFI doesn’t guarantee that a project will move forward or that a purchase will be made.
Aerostats have been used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) along the southwest border for some time as a deterrent to drug traffickers and illegal immigrants. CBP monitors South Texas with five surveillance balloons provided by the Department of Defense. However, reviews of the blimps have been mixed. Their surveillance capabilities are excellent, but they can misbehave in poor weather, and the larger models require considerable ground support to operate effectively.
In August 2014, Breitbart Texas’ Bob Price reported from Brooks County, Texas, how the Border Patrol used two aerostats positioned in that county to track down illegal immigrants who had fled into the brush in the ranch-lands of South Texas. Twenty people who were being smuggled from the border northwards fled into the brush after being detected by Border Patrol agents. Using the aerostat, all twenty were quickly rounded up by agents and arrested.
While preliminary, DPS mentioned the plan to State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and other lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Border Security. “I would support DPS to the fullest,” Lucio said.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about cross-border issues in her latest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.