A civilian border-patrol group has enhanced its surveillance capabilities by employing a high-tech, remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, to assist in spotting illegal aliens attempting to sneak into the U.S.

Glenn Spencer, head of American Border Patrol, says his organization has successfully field-tested “Border Hawk,” a UAV the group hopes to employ as a surveillance tool.

WND profiled the potential utility of UAVs in patrolling border areas last month.

The purpose of Saturday’s test, which took place over a section of the San Pedro River near the U.S./Mexico border, was not to spot border-jumpers but to “test the ability of the system to operate remotely,” ABP said.

ABP’s members use video and satellite uplink equipment to post real-time images of their surveillance activities on the Internet. The Border Hawk also has the capability to broadcast real-time video images, which ABP then will feature on its website.

“There is no doubt that the Border Hawk can do the job,” Spencer said, “but it is part of an overall system concept that we are pursuing.” He said the UAV won’t become fully operational until sometime next month.

UAVs are increasingly becoming more popular as surveillance tools for the U.S. military and for law-enforcement agencies. Also, the idea of employing UAVs to help the U.S. Border Patrol and other immigration agencies police the border has been suggested – an idea catching on with some lawmakers.

“I am extremely supportive of the idea,” says Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., a member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. Two recent border visits demonstrated “we don’t have anything approaching control of that border,” he said.

And Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, recently told President Bush in a letter that non-military uses for UAVs were “compelling.”

The U.S.-Mexico border currently is patrolled by air only sporadically. Helicopters and some fixed-wing aircraft are occasionally used.

“High tech, including drones, is precisely where we should be going,” Shadegg said, according to the Arizona Republic.

Border Patrol officials tested drones along the border in Texas in the latter 1990s, but decided against using them. However, Asa Hutchison, the top border-security official in the Department of Homeland Security, said in testimony to Congress in March, “I think that we have to revisit some of this technology since Sept. 11 and see if it has greater application.”

“You’re going to see more personnel, but also … more high-technology equipment down on the border,” added Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “You may see unmanned drones.”

Arizona is one of the hardest hit areas for illegal immigration, and the Sierra Vista, Ariz.-based Spencer is well aware of that. He says Border Hawk and similar UAVs will “pave the way to the development of a comprehensive, low-cost system of detection and surveillance along America’s borders.”

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