By GARY MARTIN
July 13, 2011, 9:21PM
WASHINGTON — Texas will get another unmanned aerial vehicle to monitor its border with Mexico, congressional officials said Wednesday.
Gov. Rick Perry has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for failing to provide more drones to help secure the border, and Texas lawmakers on the Homeland Security Committee urged Secretary Janet Napolitano in a letter this year to base in Texas one of two additional UAVs approved by Congress.
On Tuesday, Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Kostelnik, who heads the U.S. Customs and Border Protection UAV program, said they will get their wish. He told a House Homeland Security subcommittee that the new drones would be stationed at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Arizona has 3 Texas shares 1,254 miles of border with Mexico but houses only one UAV, while three drones are stationed in Arizona, which has 370 miles of shared border. Napolitano has defended the arrangement, saying the drones in Arizona provide border surveillance all the way from El Paso to San Diego.
The Obama administration sought two additional drones to monitor the border in a $600 million border security bill approved by Congress last year. Customs and Border Protection will now operate six drones along the Southwest border, two based in Texas and four in Arizona.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said Wednesday an additional UAV in Texas would provide both federal and state law enforcement more surveillance capabilities to detect smugglers.
"Technology is part of the long-term solution to securing the border," said McCaul, whose district stretches into Harris County.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, added that the UAVs would allow Customs and Border Protection to receive real-time surveillance so it could deploy fewer agents in a specific area. He also said intelligence gathered by the UAVs would be shared by federal agencies and local law enforcement.
"You have a lot of police chiefs and sheriffs that would love to have this information," Cuellar said. "The more they can share with the Department of Public Safety and local folks, the better it is."
The new Predator drone is equipped with an infrared sensor system that allows it to operate during inclement weather. It will complement a maritime Guardian UAV at the Corpus Christi base that began border surveillance and Gulf Coast missions earlier this year, Cuellar said.
The Guardian UAV also can be used for search and rescue missions and monitoring hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.