An unmanned aerial vehicle armed with advanced imaging technology is now scouring the U.S.-Canada border near Grand Forks, N.D., the first such UAV deployed on the nation’s northern frontier.
Once fully staffed, with an annual budget of $2.7 million, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Unmanned Aircraft Operations Center of North Dakota, based at Grand Forks Air Force Base, will employ close to 50 federal employees and contractors. The flights began Feb. 16
Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, the MQ-9 Predator B is capable of flying speeds of up to 260 mph for more than 18 hours at altitudes up to 50,000 feet.
In addition to advanced Raytheon electro-optical sensors, the Predator also brandishes synthetic aperture radar (SAR), helpful in documenting changes on the ground. SAR is very useful at times of national emergencies due to floods or hurricanes. At the borders SAR is used to pinpoint at changes in the terrain, giving agents information about possible suspicious border activity.
For now, images from the UAV are transmitted to the ground using line-of-sight technology, which restricts the craft’s range to about 150 miles from Grand Forks. But CPB plans to move to transmission to satellites using Ku-Band frequencies, allowing the UAV to fly almost anywhere, said CBP spokesman Juan Munoz-Torres.
The ground control station resembles an aircraft cockpit with two seats, one for the pilot flying the plane and another for an agent working as the sensors operator.
UAVs first patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border in 2005, and now five UAVs work the southern border.
Along the U.S.-Canada border, CBP processes more than 70 million international travelers and 35 million vehicles, makes approximately 4,000 arrests, and interdicts approximately 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs annually.
Read more about Border Patrol initiatives on land, on water and in the air in the April 2009 issue of Government Video.