Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last Friday declared a relatively new border security surveillance tower system a program of record, a key program milestone demonstrating the agency’s interest in the technology and moving it from a research and development effort to a line item in the budget.

The artificial intelligence-based Autonomous Surveillance Towers (ASTs) are supplied by California-based Anduril Industries, quickly relocatable and provide day and night surveillance coverage along portions of the southwest border.

Currently, CBP has 60 ASTs and plans to procure another 140 combined in fiscal years 2021 and 2022.

The ASTs are used in remote and rural locations and are equipped with radar and camera to autonomously scan, detect and identity items of interest using algorithms to analyze the imagery. The system automatically alerts Border Patrol agents based on the analysis, leaving them with the ability to make a final determination on what the item is and if it poses a threat.

“These towers give agents in the field a significant leg up against criminal networks that facilitate illegal cross-border activity,” Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said in a statement. “The more our agents know about what they encounter in the field, the more safely and effectively they can respond.”

CBP began to evaluate the ASTs, then called Innovative Towers, in 2018 in the San Diego Border Patrol Sector. The towers operate off the grid relying 100 percent on renewable energy and can be relocated within two hours, giving the Border Patrol flexibility to adapt to changing mission needs.

The ASTs are augmenting current border security assets such as the wall and are intended to complement existing surveillance such as the Remote Video Surveillance System, Integrated Fixed Towers, mobile surveillance systems and small drones, CBP said.