Customs and Border Protection is evaluating a radar developed for the Defense Department for use on its Predator Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to better monitor vehicle and personnel movement on the ground, agency officials said last week.

The Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VaDER) radar was developed by Northrop Grumman [NOC] and features ground moving target indicator data and synthetic aperture radar imagers to detect people and vehicles moving on the ground.

The evaluation aboard a CBP Predator UAS began earlier this year. So far, “we are encouraged by the results,” Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of the Border Patrol, and Martin Vaughan, executive director, Southwest Region, for CBP’s Office of Air and Marine, told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security last week.

“Using the latest in radar technologies, VaDER has the ability to monitor vehicle and personnel movement over large areas independent of atmospheric conditions,” the CBP officials said in their joint testimony. “The capability the UAS offers will drive important changes in the strategies and tactics we use to achieve our border mission.”

The CBP officials said that they are cooperating with DoD on migrating the radar technology from a wartime application to homeland security mission.

Last week’s hearing examined the Obama administration’s decision last December to shift the National Guard’s operational presence along the nation’s southwest border from a boots on the ground surveillance capability to an aviation-centered surveillance program (Defense Daily, Dec. 21, 2011).

At the time, the National Guard had 1,200 troops deployed along the southwest border to serve as extra eyes and ears for the Border Patrol. Under the new plan, the National Guard’s support to the Border Patrol was expected to get down to 300 personnel by March, with these troops helping to provide aerial surveillance through the use of helicopters equipped with various sensors.

While the National Guard shifted its border security mission, the Defense Department has remained active in the region. Between Feb. 15 and April 15, DoD and CBP conducted Operation Nimbus II, which included the use of two manned surveillance aircraft, four Army Shadow UAS, 59 Stryker combat vehicles, and dozens of sensors for spotting movement on the ground and in the air, Paul Stockton, assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, said at the hearing.

Operation Nimbus II was supported by over 800 active duty military personnel, Stockton said.