The US-Mexico border may be interminably Swiss-cheesing, with American border security seemingly unable able to get all its virtual fences in a row as cartel smuggling tech, already desperately ingenious, continues to keep northbound drugs one step ahead of authorities and much of the sensor tech they can throw money at. But that’s not stopping US Customs and Border Protection from moving forward with expanding its borderland drone fleet. The border agency has apparently inked a single-source contract with San Diego County-based aerospace stalwart General Atomics worth nearly a half-billion dollars.
According to California Watch, the border agency locked the cushy, five-year deal with General Atomics last month. Whether CBP actually gets the money to spend, here, remains to be seen. It should noted that Congress has yet to approve funding beyond the 10th drone currently being flown by CPB.
But should it all go through, the potential implications will be drastic—not in terms of drug seizures or in otherwise putting an end to the bloody awful narco wars (watch a former DEA agent explain to us how they won’t end), but for the ramping up of an already booming border-industrial complex. According to this document posted early this month to the Federal Business Opportunities website, CPB is slated to drop as much as $443 million on the GA deal. Some $237 million of that would go toward buying 14 drones and “related equipment.”
True, the entire US-Mexico border has been patrolled by Predators, so-called hunter-killer drones, since 2010, when a fourth drone—and money for two more—was added to the US’s trio of border Predators. A year later, CPB was flying eight drones, six of which were trained specifically on the southwestern border. Now, CPB wants even more—up to 24 drones in total, according to California Watch. This robot fleet will gaze down on both sides of the border and “along coastal regions,” untiring spies set on sniffing out drug traffickers and illegal immigrants making their way into the States.
They may soon have an ally just up the road, if they don’t already. The San Diego Country sheriff seems to be in talks with another San Diego drone zone firm (which Motherboard checks out in our forthcoming doc), Datron World Communications, in acquiring the Scout, a micro surveillance drone.
Top: Predator drone, post-mission, lands at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas (via Eric Gay / AP)