Is using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to patrol the U.S. border with Mexico a good idea?
Recent congressional testimony suggests that it might not be a panacea.
During a hearing last week, Rep. Thompson asked if it costs more to operate a UAV than a manned aircraft. The answer from Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner was surprising.
According to Skinner's written testimony, one UAV requires a crew of up to 20 support personnel. The operating cost is more than double that of a manned aircraft. (The Hermes UAV, for example, costs $1,351 per flight hour to operate. A Cessna 182 with pilot would be about $200 an hour.) A UAV can remain in the air for up to 20 hours, but its usefulness can be limited by cloud cover, icing, and thunderstorms.
:: I've said this over and over, using UAVs over CONUS in most cases is a dumb idea.
Using UAVs for border patrol just doesn't add up. Even at $200 per flight hour, DHS could put 6 Cessna 182s into the air for every one UAV. Then add that manned aircraft can see and avoid other air traffic, making them ultimately less of a hazard to other aircraft. (UAVs in general crash 100 times more often than manned planes.) These drones can't even be flown over populated areas, severely limiting their usefulness.
If the Border Patrol doesn't have the manpower and the airframes to fill the need... then I have a have a proposal for them.
Let CAP handle it.
We've done it before.
Set up CAP air bases along the border, and rotate crews and aircraft from around the country for week long duty rotations. We've got plenty of people that volunteer a week or two of their time for encampments and special activities... Calling on them to help out with this job wouldn't be much of stretch.
Count me in for one week every year.
Fancy Sensors? Our birds have plenty of room for gear.
Our crews are well trained for just this sort of flying. Using CAP as a force multiplier in this role would leverage a underutilized resource. We could cut DHS one heck of a deal. We could save lives, time, and money.
DHS has clearly demonstrated that they have a need. (Go watch the video.)
It's up to us to offer DHS a better mousetrap.