Predator to be on the prowl again

According to a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection report, officials expect to have a Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle flying along the U.S.-Mexico border again in November.

It will mark the return to flight of the agency's unmanned aircraft systems program following the April 24 crash of the first Predator B vehicle in the Arizona desert. A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board cited error by the ground pilot navigating the UAV as the probable cause.

The Predator drones fly surveillance missions along the border to support patrol activities. From Oct. 2, 2005, to April 24, 2006, the Predator B flew 959 hours, and contributed to 2,309 arrests.

The second Predator B was delivered to the border control agency, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, in September. This month, the agency is conducting what it described in the report as extensive testing and evaluation of the new aircraft.

For fiscal 2006, the President's Emergency Supplemental added $45 million for the Predator B program. The fiscal 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations bill offers an additional $20 million, with four Predator Bs to be deployed in all.

Last week, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of San Diego, maker of the Predator B, announced it had received a $33.9 million contract from Customs and Border Protection for two more Predator B aircraft, to be delivered in fall 2007. Each drone will be equipped with a camera system, ground control station, support equipment and logistics support, the company said.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication, Washington Technology.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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