Sunday, December 18, 2005

Robot Border Planes Need Staff of Twenty

ABC News: Unmanned Border Planes Can Require a Crew of 20

Dec. 16, 2005 — The Office of Border Patrol is using a number of unmanned planes to patrol and track down immigrants crossing a portion of the Southwest border.

While this is a positive step toward using mobile technology, it is also an expensive one with some severe limitations when there is cloud cover and nasty weather, said Richard Skinner, Department of Homeland Security inspector general, in a report to be released at a congressional hearing this morning.
"UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] remain very costly to operate and require a significant amount of logistical support as well as specialized operator and maintenance training," Skinner said. "Operating one UAV requires a crew of up to 20 support personnel. OBP [Office of Border Patrol] officials mentioned that the cost to operate a UAV is more than double the cost of manned aircraft, and that the use of UAVs has resulted in fewer seizures."

Skinner said the Hermes UAV cost $1,351 per flight hour, and the Hunter UAV cost $923 per flight hour. The cost figures include operation and maintenance costs, and the salaries and benefits of the crew needed to keep them in the air. The UAVs can stay in the air for up to 20 hours at a time.

Skinner added that 90 percent of the responses to sensor alerts resulted in "false alarms" because the sensors were reacting to road traffic, trains and animals.

"Our analysis indicates that OBP agents are spending many hours investigating legitimate activity because the sensors cannot differentiate between illegal and legitimate events," Skinner said.

Since the spy cameras and sensors are not linked, a sensor alert does not automatically pan or tilt the camera in the direction of the triggered sensor so agents can see what is going on, he added.

"The Hermes will be used by border patrol as a force multiplier, patrolling pre-designated areas looking for activity or for discretely monitoring and tracking existing situations. This will allow the CBP to concentrate its available resources to address those threats or suspicious activities identified by the UAV. In addition, having the airborne "eye in the sky" will increase the situational awareness and safety to personnel on the ground by providing them with real time intelligence and operational feedback regarding suspect activity.
Built by the Israeli company Elbit/Silver Arrow, the Hermes 450, even with a price tag of $2 million per UAV, provides low-cost, low-risk surveillance and monitoring information."

ws: Unmanned Border Planes Can Require a Crew of 20

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