Written by Right Side News
CBP Air and Marine Assistant Commissioner Maj Gen Michael C. Kostelnik (Ret. USAF), North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan and U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy officially opened the facility at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
"The expansion of the unmanned aircraft program to the northern border represents a significant step forward in our border security efforts, using this proven, effective technology to support our officers and agents along the border," said Kostelnik. "This critical mission asset will bring a new high tech approach to the border security mission and will enhance our valuable partnerships with Canadian and U.S. law enforcement entities."
"This new Unmanned Aircraft Operations Center will provide critical new capabilities to the agents who keep watch over our northern border, as well as a boost to our effort to establish the Grand Forks community as a hub of UAV activity," Senator Dorgan said. "This is a long, unprotected border, and if we're going to keep it secure, we need to make use of cutting-edge technology such as UAVs. That's why I worked in the Senate Appropriations Committee to stand up this new Air Branch as quickly as we could."
CBP Air and Marine's unmanned aircraft systems reduce the number of personnel required to gain operational control of the border. They assist other law enforcement agencies upon request. Once fully staffed with an annual budget of $2.7 million the facility will employ close to 50 federal employees and contractors.
Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CBP's unmanned aircraft, the MQ-9 Predator B, is capable of flying at speeds of up to 260 miles per hour for more than 18 hours at altitudes up to 50,000 feet. The aircraft is equipped with the state-of-the-art Raytheon electro-optical sensors. This advanced aircraft is also equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar, helpful in documenting changes, for example due to floods or hurricanes.
The aircraft and crews support the CBP priority mission of anti-terrorism as well as homeland security and disaster relief efforts. The remotely-piloted Predator B allows CBP Air and Marine personnel to safely conduct missions in areas that are difficult to access by CBP personnel on the ground.
"The North Dakota Air Branch is a tremendous partner for law enforcement and emergency services in North Dakota and across the region," Hoeven said. "The recent CBP addition of the UAV Predator further enhances our efforts to make Grand Forks a center for unmanned aviation."
Grand Forks provides a strategic, central location for air operations in support of law enforcement personnel throughout the northern region. Additionally, given the area's aviation infrastructure and the access to the academic knowledge available in the community, the area is a priority location for the initiating of this program.
"Placing state of the art technology such as this in the hands of highly capable CBP Air and Marine teams in a first class facility like those found on the Grand Forks Air Force Base, coupled with the talents and commitments of our agents on the ground creates a winning combination," said CBP Border Patrol Grand Forks' Sector Chief Patrol Agent Scott Baker. "It will also go a long way to keeping our northern frontier the world friendliest border."
Nationally, CBP faces the challenge of interdicting criminal and terrorist exploitation of international passenger and cargo movements into the United States at 327 air, land and sea ports of entry and 15 pre-clearance locations overseas. Between northern border ports of entry, eight Border Patrol sectors protect against the illegal cross-border entry of people and contraband along the northern 3,995 miles of border.
Along the U.S. northern border, CBP processes more than 70 million international travelers and 35 million vehicles, makes approximately 4,000 arrests, and interdicts approximately 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs annually. The terrain, which ranges from densely forested lands on the west and east coasts, a significant maritime environment, then open plains in the middle of the country, is comprised of many sparsely populated lands with limited state and local law enforcement presence along much of the immediate border area. CBP's unmanned aircraft will serve as a valuable tool in securing U.S. borders and supporting information sharing between and among law enforcement entities in this vast geography.
"A country that cannot control its borders cannot control its future," U.S. Senator Conrad said in a statement read at the event. "In the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11, our northern border was not receiving the additional attention that was warranted. With the emergence of Grand Forks as a hub for UAVs patrolling the northern border and the good work of the men and women at the Grand Forks Air Branch, our country is safer today. I am proud our colleagues have placed confidence in our ability to serve this need."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.