Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee addresses border concerns
The House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism held a hearing on Thursday 15 July 2010 to discuss UAV operations along the borders. Witnesses before the committee were:
Michael Kostelnik, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Air and Marine, US Customs and Border Protection
RADM Vincent B. Atkins, Assistant Commandant for Capability, US Coast Guard
Nancy Kalinowski, Vice President of System Operations Services, Air Traffic Organization, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
John Allen, Director, Flight Standards Service, FAA
The hearing examined the role of UAVs as part of the nation’s larger homeland security portfolio and how Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Coast Guard envision expanding the program in the future. CBP Assistant Commissioner General Michael Kostelnik stated that “these things have found so much use overseas, why wouldn’t we use them to defend ourselves at home?”
“UAVs are a force-multiplier for our Federal, State and Local law enforcement as they provide the intelligence to help detect, disrupt, and dismantle unlawful activity along our borders,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism and member of the Congressional UAV Caucus. “UAVs also give law enforcement and prosecutors the necessary evidence to prosecute criminals engaged in narcotics, human, and bulk cash smuggling, as well as arms trafficking. Increasingly, UAVs will become a familiar means for providing our homeland security.”
Still, Cuellar raised questions about the future of the domestic UAV program due to pilot shortages within CBP. “Training pilots to fly these UAVs at home has proven difficult at a time when similar aircraft are being used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
Although the hearing focused on the role of UAVs as part of border security, the FAA continued to express their desire for more data on unmanned aerial vehicles from the Department of Defense. Members including Congressman Cuellar, Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX) requested additional information on the number of weapons and other contraband interdicted by law enforcement related to the UAV domestic mission.
Ranking member Congresswoman Candice Miller (R-MI) expressed the need for additional UAVs along the Northern Border. CBP announced that one of the Northern Border UAVs is currently operating over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The standing room only UAV hearing drew national and international interest, with reporters from Mexican television in attendance. This was the first House Homeland Security hearing exclusively focused on the CBP UAV program.