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CBP to Test the Operational Use of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems in 3 U.S. Border Patrol Sectors

Release Date: 
September 14, 2017

Three models of portable aircraft will be evaluated in phases over the next year

WASHINGTON —U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today that U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) will begin evaluating Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) in the operational environment this month as part of a pilot program. Testing will take place in three USBP sectors beginning with Tucson followed by Rio Grande Valley and Swanton later this year. The remotely piloted sUAS will enable Border Patrol agents in the field to provide reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance, tracking and acquisition capabilities in areas that are difficult to access or otherwise considered too high-risk for manned aircraft or CBP personnel on the ground.

“We anticipate the sUAS program to be a valuable tool for Border Patrol’s highly trained law enforcement personnel in securing our borders and helping identify and intercept illicit activity along U.S. borders,” said Carla Provost, Acting Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. “These aircraft will enable Border Patrol agents to surveil remote areas not easily accessible by other means, which is critical to our ability to secure the border. They will also be invaluable for humanitarian missions, aiding in locating individuals in need of medical assistance along inhospitable areas of the border.”

During this pilot, three series of fixed-wing and rotorcraft sUAS will be operationally tested: Puma, Raven, and InstantEye Quadcopter. All of the sUASs are designed to be portable (fitting inside an SUV), highly maneuverable and rapidly deployable.

The sUAS pilot will consist of two rotations in each of the three identified sectors. The first rotations begin in September 2017, with the second commencing in January 2018. After measuring both hot and cold weather capabilities, CBP expects a final review, including future investment decisions and expansion of the program to other USBP Sectors, in late spring 2018.

Enabling field agents to rapidly deploy sUAS as needed will help agents do their job safely and effectively. The three sUAS models will deliver vital sensory and visual data to agents on the ground and have proven track records in military operations for surveillance and Force Protection missions.

The sUAS program is fully compliant with all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, policies and laws. USBP will operationally test the sUAS under an approved Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the FAA and USBP. The MOA in place maximizes risk avoidance to commercial and general aviation traffic in the National Airspace System. All sUAS will be operated under a 400-foot ceiling. In addition, USBP has an approved MOA with CBP’s Air and Marine Operations further addressing operational risk avoidance in day-to-day operations.

Last modified: 
September 15, 2017