The Use of “Drones” by the Border Patrol

In conjunction with the Office of Air and Marine (OAM), Border Patrol Agents monitor the flow of traffic across the northern and southern borders with Predator B unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Does the Border Patrol use Drones?

Technically, the Predator aircraft systems that are used to monitor the borders of the U.S. are not drones.  Drones operate using instructions that are programmed ahead of time and are not controlled by humans as they fly.  In contrast, the Predator B aircraft are operated by pilots remotely.  Thus, they are controlled by humans when they are in the air and fall outside the definition of “drones” – instead they are considered Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

From Which Border Cities are Unmanned Aircraft Deployed?

As of August 2012, Predator B aircraft operated out of:

  • Fort Huachuca, Arizona
  • Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Grand Forks, North Dakota

A specialized maritime version of unmanned aircraft known as the Guardian operated out of

  • Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Cape Canaveral, Florida

Which Agency Controls the Unmanned Aircraft?

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) houses the U.S. Border Patrol.  Another agency within this division is the Office of Air and Marine (OAM).  Technically, it is OAM personnel that pilot these aircraft.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifies these individuals to fly these aircraft.

What are the Advantages of Predator B Aircraft?

Part of the reason that Predator B aircraft were chosen by the OAM was their record of safety and performance with other government agencies.  These aircraft have a high degree of flexibility in their missions and can be readily modified with new sensor packages.  They can search wide areas quickly using radar or night vision technology if required.

The pilots of these unmanned aircraft work closely with Border Patrol agents on the ground to inform them of breaches of US security.  For instance, the pilots can utilize the night vision of the Predator Bs to see groups of individuals crossing the border illegally.  They can direct the agents on the ground to the location of the illegal immigrants.