Emerging Tech

Customs and Border Protection Wants to Arm Drones

United States Customs and Border Protection

Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation from the Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection indicate that the agency is close to finalizing payload standards for its drone aircraft. Among the things the CBP might want to use in its unmanned aircraft: "non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize" targets.

In 2009, the agency announced that it had acquired its sixth Predator drone, stationed at an Army Airfield in Arizona. The agency trumpeted its successes:

Since 2004, CBP unmanned aircraft have flown more than 3,000 hours, directly contributing to 4,766 arrests and the seizure of 22,823 pounds of marijuana in support of the Department of Homeland Security's border security mission.

fact sheet provided by the agency notes the current capabilities of the aircraft, including electro-optical/infrared sensors and "Surface Search Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator." The specific drone rolled out in 2009 was loaded with "the Raytheon MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System (with electro-optical, infrared, laser designation, and laser illumination capabilities) and Synthetic Aperture Radar." Raytheon describes the capabilities of the MTS-B: "provides long-range surveillance, high-altitude target acquisition, tracking, rangefinding, and laser designation for the HELLFIRE missile and for all tri-service and NATO laser-guided munitions." You can see the surveillance systems at work in this video, shot at the Mexican border; obviously, the CBP drones aren't HELLFIRE equipped.

Read more on The Atlantic Wire

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