DSJ sat down on 11 March 2020 at the Border Security Expo with Keith Haynes, Assistant Chief, U.S. Border Patrol. Our exchange focused on the U.S. Border Patrol’s increased utilization of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS).
DSJ: How many small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) does the Border Patrol operate, what are they, and where are they?
Chief Haynes: The Border Patrol has about 140 sUAS, operating mostly on the U.S Southern border. We have about 100 of the VTOLs (vertical take-off-and landing) sUAS — Lockheed Martin’s Indago 3, and FLIR Systems’ R80D SkyRaider — and about 40 AeroVironment Puma 3 AE fixed-wing aircraft. We also fly FLIR’s PD-100 Black Hornets. These units, which can operate in GPS-deprived environments, are in the hands of special operators that and are not generally for broader Border Patrol application.
DSJ: Is sUAS a formal U.S. Border Patrol Program of Record or is it ad hoc?
Chief Haynes: Over the past two-and-a-half years, the U.S. Border Patrol has established a formal sUAS Program of Record and established all of the programmatic processes and procedures, and contracts for our program. As the Executive Agent for DHS Customs & Border Protection (CBP), we want to be able to allow other CBP entities to take advantage of this programmatic framework and to expedite operationalizing sUAS for them.”
The Border Patrol and the Coast Guard have distinct UAS programs of record. We at the Border Patrol have already approached other CBP components and we know that there is a need for it. We are, accordingly, trying to figure out how do we do this, how do we approach other components to address their needs. Do we absorb them in our program of record or do they need their own program of record? .
DSJ: What have you learned about the mission application of the sUAS?
Chief Haynes: We’ve learned that when sUAS are fielded, our operators fly them differently than how we envisioned they might. For example, we envisioned the system being used for area overwatch, but we found that operators would use them to provide situational awareness to enable their technology (sensor) emplacement. They make agents more safe.
DSJ: What capabilities would you like to provide for your sUAS?
We are looking at other sensors – we are looking beyond EO and IR to the next thing. Our MQ-9 Predator UAS have VaDER (Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar) but these are much larger UAS that fly at much higher altitudes. Can we miniature this VADER capability for UAS under 55 lbs. to be able to identify targets in order to vector in agents on the ground or other drones? Maybe we need systems with two sensors, radars that can slew-to-cue EO/IR sensors.
DSJ: What is your plan for sUAS deployment and utilization moving forward?
Chief Haynes: The plan is to continue to scan the environment to see which systems out there most closely meet our requirements and to constantly refine our requirements because this space evolves very quickly. The plan is to continue to purchase systems to increase our situational awareness on the border with the ultimate goal not necessarily to reach a certain number of systems, but rather to, working with the FAA, extend [our use of these system] to beyond line of sight (BLOS). Operating BLOS would allow our existing platforms to cover more ground and be more impactful to border operations that if the systems have to fly LOS – essentially a two-mile bubble.