MESA, Ariz. – Aerial drones patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border will be grounded after the current contract expires next Sunday so the federal government can evaluate the program's effectiveness, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection says.
Immigration authorities have been testing unmanned drones on the border for months, using them to help agents spot illegal immigrants and smugglers.
"It's undetermined when the program will start back up," said Mario Villarreal, spokesman for agency. "I would say sometime this year."
Israeli-made Hermes unmanned vehicles were first deployed last summer, and they helped catch 965 illegal immigrants and confiscate 843 pounds of marijuana, said Andrea Zortman, spokeswoman for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, which covers all the Arizona-Mexico border except for an area around Yuma.
The Hermes was followed by the RQ-5 Hunter made by Northrop Grumman Corp.
The remote-controlled airplane can fly quietly at more than 100 mph for 10 to 12 hours at a time, scanning the ground below with high-tech cameras capable of both day and night vision. The Border Patrol monitors the images and uses agents on the ground to respond.
Zortman said the Hunter helped agents make 287 apprehensions of illegal immigrants and seize 1,900 pounds of marijuana.