U.S. Customs and Border Protection is ending the surveillance blimp program that began approximately seven years ago, according to Rep. Henry Cuellar, who cited high costs as part of the reason.
(TNS) — Despite support from local
"It's a self-inflicted wound because you all went ahead and got into contracts with vendors and you are paying too much, and I've been telling you for years to slow down and lower the price," Cuellar said, referring to
These aerostats, which can reach altitudes ranging between 500 and 5,000 feet, are equipped with radars and high-resolution and infrared cameras. They are also relocatable.
Cuellar said he has had a problem with the high-dollar cost paid to the private contractor for years.
"The balloon is already paid for and all you are doing is paying millions of bucks to bring it up and down," Cuellar said of the TAS contract.
In 2019, Peraton, a private contractor that operates the TAS aerostats in the
CBP has budgeted $29 million a year since 2013, which, over the lifespan of TAS, comes out to approximately $203 million.
"The TAS program, originally established to provide land domain awareness and persistent ground surveillance along the southern border, is comprised of six aerostats and three relocatable towers deployed in the
The request says CBP planned not to renew the $29 million in funding because remote video surveillance system, or RVSS, tower deployments will enable CBP to remove the relocatable towers and decommission them.
CBP also said the funding for the remaining six aerostats will not be needed in the 2021 fiscal year.
However, the congressman, who spoke with local
Cuellar said he's exploring ways to eliminate the use of private contractors to slash the program's cost and have
"So what are they going to do with these aerostats now? So there's a lot of questions once they get fully staffed at Homeland. I want to go into this," Cuellar said.
TAS, however, is not the only aerostat program in the
There's also the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS.
TARS works by capturing continuous radar information from lawful and unlawful aircraft, vessels and vehicles that are either entering or approaching
"TARS provides radar coverage from an altitude of operation up to 15,000 feet and can detect objects within 200 nautical miles," The GAO said in a 2017 report. "The elevated radar sensor on the TARS aerostat mitigates curvature of the earth and terrain masking limitations of common ground based radar systems."
TARS is deployed to eight locations throughout
This program is not immediately being discontinued.
However, a Government Accountability Report published in 2017 indicates that TARS may eventually be on its way out.
"According to CBP, TARS are obsolete and no longer manufactured or supported and could be out of service by early 2020. CBP officials told us TARS sites face immediate risks of being out of service earlier than 2020 should a crash occur at a TARS site rendering the radar components inoperable because there are no spare radar systems available. CBP has no specific plans for replacement or modernization of TARS, but is currently undergoing an analysis of alternatives to determine whether the agency should modernize or replace them," the GAO said in a 2017 report.
And as older technology becomes outdated, new surveillance technology continues to be created that will likely end up being used by
In 2019, the
The company's 2018 annual report to the
CBP has made no public announcements regarding the use or deployment of the WASP aerostat on the southern border or in the Rio Grande Valley Sector.
(c)2021 The Monitor (McAllen, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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