Drone Cost Symptomatic of Larger DHS Issue

Military version of the MQ-9 Reaper drone similar to the ones used by CBT.

Military version of the MQ-9 Reaper drone similar to the ones used by CBT.

by Gene Howington

CNN is reporting that re-tasked military drone use by the Border Patrol (under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security) is grossly expensive and of negligible benefit. According to figures derived from a report released on January 6, 2015 by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), using drones for patrolling our borders costs $28,000 per single arrest. In 2013, operating nine (9) drones for this purpose cost taxpayers $62.5 million and resulted in the apprehension of just 2,272 suspects. This accounts for less than 2% of the total arrests by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the area where drones operate.  In toto, in its first eight (8) years of operations, the CBP drone program has cost $360 million.

The only difference between these drones and the ones used by the military in operations across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and other battle zones is that there are no missiles on board. Read that carefully.  “No missiles on board” is not “incapable of carrying missiles”. All of this high end military equipment being shipped to CBP and local police is extremely expensive to maintain as previously noted (“Look out! The 7th Graders have mined the kickball field!”). This is due in part to the equipment’s sophistication as a general rule, but in the case of drones the expense is compounded by the equipment being temperamental and sensitive to weather. The drones are grounded about 80% of the time due to budget issues. All of this expense is to cover the entire southern border with Mexico, right?  Wrong. These costs reflect a patrol area of only 170 miles of the 1,993 mile border.

Naturally the boys with the new toys think that looking at the cost effectiveness issue in terms of arrests is a mistake. Maj. Gen. Randolph Alles, assistant commissioner of CBP, runs the program. He justifies the cost by saying the drones a larger picture of the border, what he euphemistically calls “domain awareness.”  According to CNN, Alles added: “‘We could never see the border in the same way we could before we got these …’ adding the information received by the drones is invaluable to agents on the ground. Alles also says in 2013, the arrests by drone brought in $66,000 per hour of contraband seizures.”  $62.5 million to get $66,000 worth of contraband sure seems like an efficient use of tax dollars and who cares how many innocent civilians were spied upon during the process, eh?

The bean counters were less exhuberent in their praise of the drone program:

Inspector General John Roth says while the drones do contribute to overall border security, Customs hasn’t “put any measurements in place as to whether it’s effective; the measurements we saw show that in fact it’s not effective.”

Maj. Gen. Alles says he doesn’t want any more drones until he can prove the program works at every level but that doesn’t seem to factor in to longterm plans circulating from both Republican and Democratic supporters of the drone program to buy more with the goal of and having continuous air coverage. It should be a real winning proposition . . . for the balance sheets of drone manufactures.

 While many concerned with the state of civil liberties that are under constant threat by an ever intrusive and paranoid government aided by unregulated corporate “Big Data”, very rarely are the issues of cost effectiveness brought to the fore. After all, who is going to complain about the erosion of civil liberties when there is a private profit to be made? This wasteful spending is emblematic of a larger problem with and within DHS. The program cobbled together by the G.W. Bush administration in the wake of 9/11  is hugely expensive, unconstitutionally intrusive and of only marginal benefit to law enforcement compared to the costs. Trevor Timm of The Guardian summarized this issue well in his column “Why shutting down the Department of Homeland Security would be a good idea“. In addition to being a boondoggle, it is a veritable “graft bonanza” for pols and lobbyists in the wake of Citizens United.

Is the cost of DHS, both in freedom lost and real dollars, worth the benefit?

Are private profits driving this expensive and ineffective program at the expense of liberty?

What do you think?

Source(s): CNN, CBP Drones are Dubious Achievers (Report by the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security), The Guardian.

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in Big Brother, Campaign Finance, CBT, Civil Liberties, Corruption, Democracy, DHS, DNC, Fascists/Corporatists, George W. Bush, Law Enforcement, Neoconservatives, Neoliberals, Oligarchy, RNC, United States, War on "Terror". Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Drone Cost Symptomatic of Larger DHS Issue

  1. Anonymouly Yours says:

    Have you played with your drone lately? Interesting will be if the drones are restricted to the proposed 500′ restriction proposed for civilian use……

  2. Mike Spindell says:

    General Alles will no doubt retire sometime soon to become an executive of a dronee manufacturing firm.

  3. Let’s do a little cost-benefit analysis. The unit cost for an MQ-1 Predator drone is $4.03 million. The larger and newer MQ-9 Reaper unit cost is $16.9 million. Those are the latest figures publicly available, and are 2013 dollars. Those figures are the flyaway cost. That does not include operating cost, which requires a complex high-tech infrastructure.

    Operating cost per flight hour for the Predator is about $1,320 per hour. The Reaper costs $3,250 per hour to operate. One must keep in mind that each of these aircraft must have a live pilot, albeit ground-based in a VERY expensive trailer or building. They require a full maintenance crew. Neither the Predator or the larger Reaper are designed to be flown in controlled airspace, mixed with commercial and general aviation air traffic. They are designed to be operated in military operating airspace or war zones.

    For a long time, the Border Patrol and a number of State Highway Patrols used Maule aircraft. Some still do. The Maule is a rugged airplane that is suitable for both private and commercial operation. With tundra tires, it can land and take off almost anywhere, and has slow takeoff and landing (STOL) capability.

    I have flown one. It is easy to fly, and can have as much or as little electronic equipment in it as you want. It can fly slow, and has great visibility. The best part is that any fixed wing pilot can fly it. No special training is needed, other than to spend an hour with an instructor to get checked out. Most law enforcement departments already have officers or employees who are already pilots, some military trained. They get a lateral transfer and stay on salary.

    Cost of a Maule? Built in Moultrie, Georgia, they start at $158,900, and go up to about $290,000 with all the bells and whistles. Operating cost is a winner. It burns about 9 gallons per hour of fuel. That comes out to about $47.00 per hour. No ground crew is needed, other than what is found at an average small airport.

    Maules aren’t sexy. They are efficient. That is why bush pilots love them. Short video below is a Maule. Which would you rather have flying around overhead looking for bad guys, a Maule, or a drone? Incidentally, helicopters are more expensive to buy and operate than fixed wing aircraft. They have more parts that can break.

  4. I am not against the CPB or law enforcement departments having aircraft, but common sense and wise use of scarce funds must prevail. When an agency can show us a remote operated drone do any of these things for under a hundred dollars an hour operating cost, I may change my mind.

  5. bigfatmike says:

    Well, maybe the GOP will prove we can get by with a much smaller and less costly DHS than we ever imagined. Getting the right size for government projects is so important. We ought to thank the GOP for the current critical evaluation of DHS cost effectiveness. I just hope mission critical employees do not have to work too many days without pay.

  6. pete says:

    This sounds like a case of “we bought’em now what do we do with them”.

    • bigfatmike says:

      If only DOD had the same policy as some of the big box stores ‘if you are not completely happy with your purchase we take it back no questions asked!”

      I just want to know where the customer service window is for this mine resistant ambush protected vehicle? I just want to look at the procurement officer who actually believes the local official buying an MRAP is fully informed and of sound mind.

Comments are closed.