Drones in Border Management

Lessons Learnt: Drones in Border Management Control

Drones in border management

USA/Mexico border

The contentious topic of the proposed on the southern border of the USA is well known, having attracted attention internationally. Initial estimates to build a fixed wall on this 3200km border are in the region of $22billion. Less than 20% of the current border is walled and typically about 20kms either side of urban areas.

A number of pilot projects have been launched to explore various options including a ‘virtual wall’, or ‘geo-fencing’ (or ‘Smart Fence”)

MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) UAVs pilot

As it stands the U.S. Border Patrol have already incorporated 9 unarmed Predator drones that can fly 24hr missions at altitudes of between 600m to 9000m and reach speeds of 700kmh. 

These drones cost $20m each and although it is argued to be much less than the cost of the fixed wall, it is still more than the current cost of border patrol, which it was meant to reduce and has not yet the achieved the 16hrs flight time per day that it was set to achieve. Current proposals are to extend the drone fleet by another 5 Predator drones to achieve an additional 10,000hrs of flight time per year. This equates to 1000 hours of flight time for $1m, or $1000 per hour of flight time. 

Most of the deployments record video that is compared to past flights identifying changes in terrain to signal cross-border traffic allowing agencies to focus their resources effectively. This does however mean that observations are after the fact and do not provide ‘eyes on’ ISR type capability. So this is a form of early warning system, but situational awareness and inaccessible terrain remain challenges.

Border management with drones

TACTICAL UAV pilot

Another project in conducted on an 80km stretch of the border sees the deployment of smaller, personal drones. Using seismic sensors as an early warning/detection systems, these drones (multicopter and smaller fixed wings are deployed to respond to events. Where it would take border patrol agents an hour to reach a sensor 10kms away, a drone is overhead within minutes.

In this solution both early warning and situational awareness is delivered at a fraction of the cost of the Predator drones solution.

ISR Methodology

A typical ISR (Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance) method is to Detect, Identify and Respond to incidents. It would seem that shorter range drones are better able to provide capability across the full ISR methodology. 

Drones in border management vs ground security forces

Perimeter Response /Ground Security Forces

Drones in border management advantages

UAVs provide a rapid response and fast “eyes on” to the target area with live updates control stations while active waypoint tracking can be maintained based on the target parameters, like thermal signatures.

A key advantage of UAVs is its ability to collect imagery, ideally suited for reconnaissance or rapid situation awareness with application for ground force units to detect and monitor potential threats from a safe distance.

UAVs in perimeter security do not only reduce the requirement for foot patrols by security guards, but also provide an additional oversight in instances where security guards are deployed to ensure their adherence to patrolling routines.

The speed, size, maneuverability and additional technologies make UAVs the perfect supplement to ground security teams seeking to perform monitoring tasks more quickly and efficiently.

Drones have a competitive edge over stationary cameras, as intruders can’t easily step out of sight, and they can cover areas that are normally out of reach.

Lessons learnt:

A physical wall, once built, cannot be redeployed, or adjusted.

Benefits of drones compared to a fixed wall include:

  • Concentration of border management resources in priority areas
  • Mobile infrastructure – drones can be moved around
  • Upgradeable – drones can be upgraded

Flight missions are undeterred by geography (oceans, swamps, mountains)

  • Multi-purpose (can be used for other purposes, ie: rescue efforts)
  • Flexible virtual infrastructure, responsive to ever changing threats