US Department of Homeland Security plan more General Atomics Predator B UAVs

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By Peter La Franchi in London

The US Department of Homeland Security is planning to acquire an additional two General Atomics MQ-9 Predator B unmanned air vehicles for use by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency.

The additional aircraft would be funded from a proposed supplemental financial package being recommended by the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security for the current US fiscal year.

The boosted funding package would also support the purchase of 13 additional CBP helicopters.

DHS secretary Michael Chertoff told the committee 27 July that the proposed funding supplementation being considered would “enhance surveillance by purchasing two additional unmanned air vehicles and five additional light observation helicopters. An additional eight light enforcement helicopters will provide direct support to enforcement operations.”

General Atomics is declining to comment on the proposed deal.

The additional Predator B acquisition plan comes as the company is preparing to deliver the second of two UAVs in early October under existing purchase orders.

The CBP operated its first Predator B along the US south-west border with Mexico between September 2005 and April this year, raking up almost 1,000 flight hours before the aircraft was lost through operator error.

That aircraft is credited with a direct role in the apprehension of almost 2,000 suspected illegal aliens and the seizure of more than 3,630kg (8,000lb) of illicit narcotics.

The UAV was used in persistent surveillance roles, as well as being used to guide manned surveillance and interdiction aircraft into hotspot areas.

Meanwhile, the US Navy has placed a $8.29 million order for a Predator B to support ongoing UAV maritime demonstration activity ahead of the proposed introduction into service of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV system.

The USN says that it has “initiated a contract action to acquire one Predator B and associated spares kit, ground support equipment, and systems integration, to be used for sensor research and development over the next year”.

While Pentagon contract notice data released on 4 August indicates that deliveries are to be completed by April 2007, the USN says that “the actual delivery date is yet to be determined”.

It adds: “As an R&D project, the Navy Predator will be used for the demonstration of sensor capabilities and related tactics, techniques and procedures. The knowledge gained from this research and demonstration activity will be made available to other programmes. The goal is to reduce risk by determining the relative capabilities, cost and risk of new sensor technologies well ahead of them being introduced into programmes of record.”