U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently announced its intention to display the world’s only full operational maritime variant MQ-9 Predator B Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), the Guardian, at an upcoming aviation trade show in Paris, France.
Sound like a sophisticated piece of military technology? It is. So what’s wrong with that? Well, CBP’s upcoming display is indicative of a larger phenomenon, namely that the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) has discovered the United States border. And, in order for that relationship to flourish, the MIC depends on positing a border that is out of control.
Unfortunately, it may be the operators of these Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and not the border itself that are out of control. FAA documents in 2010 reported an abnormally high CBP predator drone accident rate, an assertion vehemently disputed by CBP. Regardless of this dispute, CBP did suffer three landing incidents involving loss of control of predator drones between 2007 and 2008 (CBP only has 7 drones and it appears almost half the fleet has problems). And although they claim the aircraft involved in those incidents were repaired and returned to flight, conflicting reports suggest that at least one of the $10 million+ dollar drones was destroyed beyond repair.
CBP would have us believe that the MQ-9 Predator B Unmanned Aircraft System is part of a life-saving border force deployed to assist in emergency response and protect against grave threats such as terrorism, illegal immigration, and drug trafficking. The truth is that the MIC and the growing bureaucratic empire that is the Department of Homeland Security and its subcomponents depend on a border that must be perceived to be out of control for agency budgets to remain plush for such expenditures as drone development and acquisition.
CBP indicated that this week’s Paris Air Show “presents a special opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of the UAS to support homeland security missions and reinforce industry and government awareness of the significant role CBP aviation plays in securing our nation.”
Picking Paris for the venue to unveil the drone to US Congressional delegations and to otherwise reinforce government awareness of its new UAS is more than suspect, it is absurd. Washington DC has at least two major airports at which the Guardian could be displayed for members of the Congress and US government officials. And equally strange is the fact that neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate has a recess scheduled for the period for which the Paris Air Show is scheduled.
Perhaps a senior CBP official saw the Paris Air Show as a chance to take a taxpayer-paid trip to Paris. Or perhaps Chicken Little was right, and CBP has concerns about its ability to keep its new UAS in the air and is therefore hesitant to fly it into Washington DC airspace.
See CBP’s Press Release the Guardian and the Paris Air Show here: http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/news_releases/national/06152011_2.xml