It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a ... DHS drone

The Homeland Security Department is scheduled to begin unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flights over the U.S.-Canadian border for the first time later this year.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said Monday it will establish a pilot program to operate the drones by Sept. 30. The new program will be based in Grand Forks, N.D., because of its central location along the U.S. northern border.

"As unmanned aircraft have proven to be effective on our southern border, this first step in North Dakota will lay the foundation to expand unmanned aerial system operations along the nation's northern border," Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner for CBP's Office of Air and Marine, said in the news release. "As Customs and Border Protection expands air operations along the northern tier, the presence of the [UAV] will further enhance our situational awareness."

The UAVs are equipped with cameras that enable them to be used for observation, surveillance and detection activities. They will support law enforcement and critical incident response, according to the agency.

In addition, Customs and Border Protection said it is adding satellite infrastructure this year at its Air and Marine Operations Center in Riverside, Calif.

CBP intended to resume flights along the U.S.-Mexico border for its Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle in November, the first since the April 24, 2006, crash of the first Predator. A preliminary federal investigation cited error by the ground pilot navigating the UAV.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of San Diego, maker of the Predator B, received a $33.9 million contract in October 2006 for two more Predator B aircraft to be delivered in fall 2007.

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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