Criminals are using small drones to spot vulnerabilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Department of Homeland Security is struggling to stop them.
Reports of unmanned aircraft flying along the southwestern border have spiked in recent months, with more than three dozen sightings since the beginning of the fiscal year, October 2017. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the number of drone sightings is on a course to quadruple from the previous year. Officials say they are concerned that criminal groups are using the unmanned aircraft to gather surveillance intel while seeking paths to traffic drugs and other illicit goods into the United States.
Drones are the latest method criminals are using to outsmart the U.S. law enforcement. As drone flights picked up in recent years, manned ultralight flights have fallen significantly. In 2011, DHS officials tracked 198 ultralight flights into the United States. In 2017, DHS recorded 17 such flights.
“They’re probably trying to get eyeballs on agents out in the field and see where soft areas are,” said James Thom, acting operations director for CBP’s Air and Marine Operations Center outside Los Angeles. “To date, I don’t know that we’ve successfully been able to detect and track drone activity.”
CBP has spent millions on at least three detection systems to stop pilots from making illicit flights into U.S. airspace. Two of those projects were scrapped within a seven-year period after they failed to meet requirements. The conventional sensor systems have been unable to keep up with technology the criminals are using, and the radars were ill-equipped to detect smaller unmanned aircraft.
CBP is now using a product created by the Defense Department called LSTAR, an acronym for Lightweight Surveillance Target Acquisition Radar. LSTAR is better at detecting small aircraft that traditional systems do not always pick up, said Tim Snyder, director of plans and programs at the Air and Marine Operations Center. The system is in place in Arizona, Snyder said. Three other locations are expected to the system get this year.
Source: Washington Post