The Border Patrol is beginning operational tests of field proven, rapidly deployable small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) with a goal of improving the situational awareness and safety of its agents in the field.
Customs and Border Protection, which manages the Border Patrol, said last Thursday evening that the series of tests will run into 2018 to ensure testing in hot and cold conditions, leading to a final review late next spring on future sUAS investments and expansion of the program to other border sectors. Testing has begun in the Tucson, Ariz., sector and will follow in the Rio Grande Valley and Swanton, Vt., sectors this year.
The electric-powered UAS being tested are the InstantEye quadcopter, which so far is the only aircraft being flown, and the Puma and Raven fixed-wing systems. Each system can fit into an SUV for easy portability.
“These aircraft will enable Border Patrol agents to surveil remote areas not easily accessible by other means, which is critical to our ability to secure the border,” Carla Provost, acting chief of the Border Patrol, said in a statement. “They will also be invaluable for humanitarian missions, aiding in locating individuals in need of medical assistance along inhospitable areas of the border.”
The testing is a first for the Border Patrol of sUAS in an operational environment, a CBP spokesman told Defense Daily.
InstantEye, built by Physical Sciences Inc.’s PSI Tactical Robotics division, has a 30-minute endurance time aloft for close area surveillance. The hand-launched Raven and Puma systems, both built by AeroVironment [AVAV], each provide persistent surveillance with 90-minute and three-hour endurance times respectively.
All three sUAS have been used by the U.S. military in theater operations for surveillance and force protection missions, the CBP spokesman said. Once testing is successfully completed, the agency may acquire additional systems from discarded military inventory through the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, he said.