U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) division announced late last week it is testing a program to operate Predator drones from a civilian airport in San Angelo, Texas.
CBP officials said they are testing the feasibility of operating Unmanned Aircraft System Predator B aircraft from Mathis Field in San Angelo. It will begin with a three- to four-week deployment, according to a CBP statement obtained by Breitbart Texas.
Authorities assured citizens that the aircraft are normally operated by the AMO aircrews at altitudes of 18,000 feet or higher. The aircraft operate under what is known as Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and are in constant communication with air traffic controllers.
The mission of the drones is to assist law enforcement and homeland security missions along the nation’s southern border with Mexico. The test missions are scheduled to be flown along the Texas border to support on-going border security operations.
Officials stated the San Angelo airfield was selected because of the normally favorable weather conditions, its central location to several border sectors and the currently operating AMO group working out of Mathis Field.
Breitbart Texas’ border security expert and contributing editor Sylvia Longmire reported in January about a Dallas Morning News editorial that sharply criticized the CBP’s drone program. “The drone program run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection is more expensive than it is effective,” the editorial stated. “It lacks adequate performance measures and established goals, and has serious limitations.”
CBP official responded in a Letter to the Editor and rebutted the news outlet’s position stating, the drones are “a proven, effective surveillance technology enhancing CBP’s operational capabilities and increasing our awareness along the nation’s borders and coasts.”
CBP official also rebutted a report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). “The report shows OIG has a fundamental lack of understanding of our mission and operations,” wrote Randolph Alles, CBP’s Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Air and Marine. “Its use of apprehensions vs. detections statistics is an example — if the Predator operated the way OIG advocates, systems would wear out in five years, wasting taxpayer dollars.” He also added, “While CBP does not concur with the OIG’s cost calculations, comparing the OIG figure of $12,255 per flight hour with the $66,651 value of contraband seized per UAS flight hour in FY 2013 shows a 444 percent return on investment.”
Longmire sumized, “There is certainly room for improvement in the drone program, as well as many other border security programs, but hashing out these disagreements in a large Texas newspaper only serves to further undermine public confidence in our government’s border security apparatus.”
The test program in San Angelo is expected to run throughout the month of February.
Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas and is a member of the original Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter@BobPriceBBTX.