From the Arizona Daily Star:
Border Patrol officials are investigating the Tuesday morning crash of a Predator-B spy drone, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s office of Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C.
Spokesman Michael Friel said operators lost contact with the $14 million unmanned plane about 2:50 a.m. as it patrolled the border at 12,000 to 15,000 feet. Efforts to re-establish contact were not successful….
The Predator, called an unmanned aerial vehicle, is remotely controlled through satellite communication, and its cameras and sensing equipment are able to see through clouds from up to 50,000 feet.
Friel said the Border Patrol began deploying the Predator last September. Since Oct. 1, it has flown more than 900 hours and is credited with the apprehension of 1,793 illegal entrants and 200 pounds of marijuana.
This crash happened just as the Senate was preparing to vote to add $1.9 billion in funding for border security to the FY 2006 supplemental bill, including new funds for UAVs. Before CBP buys new or replacement UAVs, I think that careful thought needs to be given as to whether they are cost-effective. Based on the facts in the story above, the cost-per-apprehension for this UAV was $7,808. If I make a similar calculation for the Border Patrol ($1.4 billion annual budget, 1.2 million apprehensions in 2005), the cost-per-apprehension is $1,166. This is admittedly an imperfect comparison, because there are other budget items that impact on the apprehension totals, and because UAVs should presumably have an average useful life that is longer than eight months – but I still think that it’s telling.