The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency unveiled new plans to expand its growing fleet of General Atomics Predator B aircraft, even as the agency’s second batch of two unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is set to join agency within the next month.?xml:namespace>
The CBP released a “presolictation notice” on 13 December for additional Predator Bs, the medium-altitude UAS the agency has acquired for unarmed border surveillance missions.
The notice initiates the agency’s public process for acquiring new aircraft.
A General Atomics spokeswoman confirms that the airframer expects to receive a new proposal request from the CBP, which has already bought five Predators but lost one in a crash blamed on pilot error.
The pending solicitation likely would involve multiple aircraft plus options, the spokeswoman adds.
The CBP currently operates two Predator Bs based at Libby Army Airfield in Sierra Vista, Arizona, augmenting crewed surveillance aircraft and cueing ground agents to interdict illegal border crossings.
General Atomics is scheduled to deliver another Predator B by end-year and still another by late-January. Both aircraft were acquired using a $20 million fund in the Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal year 2007 budget. The agency also receives $10 million a year to operate the aircraft.
The second batch of Predator B deliveries is expected to initiate UAS patrols for the CBP on the northern border and in the ?xml:namespace>Caribbean.
The agency’s first Predator B was lost in a crash on 24 April 2006. The mishap was blamed on a mistake by the pilot, who was transferring controls between operator consoles at the time of the accident.