Border Patrol trying out new surveillance balloon

The U.S. Border Patrol is considering another type of surveillance balloon that can be quickly moved to spot illegal activity, part of an effort to see if more eyes in the sky translate to fewer illegal crossings.

Agents in Texas recently finished a 30-day trial of the camera-toting, helium-filled balloon made by Drone Aviation Holding Corp., a small startup that named former Border Patrol chief David Aguilar to its board of directors in January. The 3-year-old, money-losing company gave Aguilar stock options that may prove lucrative if it gets more orders for its proprietary model.

The trial comes as agents test hand-launched drones, which are relatively inexpensive but hampered by short battery life and weight limits. The Border Patrol has also used six large tethered balloons in Texas since 2012, acquired from the Defense Department.

President Trump has pledged to add 5,000 Border Patrol agents, but hiring has been slow. If drones and balloons are deployed more widely, fewer agents may be needed.

The new balloon — called Winch Aerostat Small Platform, or WASP — drew the Border Patrol’s interest largely to save money. The company says one costs $800,000 plus about $350,000 a year to operate, depending on how often it’s moved. By contrast, operating the current fleet of six large balloons costs $33 million a year, according to Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat.

ALSO

Here's what prototypes of a U.S.-Mexico border wall look like

Judge sides with Border Patrol in case of man fatally shot after throwing rocks at agents

Border Patrol agent accused of hawking fake timepieces from the trunk of car

Human smuggler who struck Border Patrol agent with rock is sent back to prison

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
51°