No surprise: Drones don’t work for border security

The American Department for Homeland Security has been using Predator B drones to patrol its frontiers with Mexico and Canada. However its Office for Inspector General has done an audit that showed that it does not achieve intended results and that it dramatically underestimates the cost of the operation (by as much as 5X). While program proponents claimed the hourly cost of the programme was $2,468,the auditors found the real cost is $12,255 when all relevant costs are included.

The audit found that the drones did not help catch illegal border crossers (being involved in only 2% of captures) and operators flew only 20% of the intended sorties, mostly because of weather.  Federal Times reported that the Office for the Inspector General had recommended not approving an addition $443 million for more drones to expand the programme.

American Homeland Security has also been operating a limited drone patrol programme along the Canadian border, with little effect. Lothar Eckardt, Executive Director of national air security operations, defended the programme, essentially saying that having drones patrolling areas where there was no illegal activity freed up resources where there was a greater problem.

It isn’t clear whether Homeland Security has the same problem with retaining drone operators as the military does. Drone operation is increasingly viewed as a dead-end job. If the programme is ineffective on the busy Mexican-American frontier, the drone patrols along the Canadian border must be particularly purposeless.

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