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Cantwell Secures Senate Approval to Examine Use of Unmanned Aircraft to Enhance Northern Border Security

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Location: Vancouver, WA


Cantwell Secures Senate Approval to Examine Use of Unmanned Aircraft to Enhance Northern Border Security

Washington Companies Could Benefit from Immigration Reform Bill and Play Key Role in Boosting Border Security Cantwell Calls on Colleagues to Keep Program in Final Immigration Bill

Friday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced that Washington companies could provide unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to strengthen security along America's northern border if a provision introduced by Cantwell stays in the final version of the immigration reform bill. During the immigration reform debate, Cantwell introduced a proposal that directs the Department of Defense to use unmanned aerial vehicles to boost security along the northern border. The Senate approved the measure and now Cantwell is asking leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees to keep the provision in the final version of the immigration bill. Friday in Vancouver, Cantwell was joined by representatives from two local companies involved in making UAVs.

"Border security must be a critical component of immigration reform," said Cantwell, a member of the Northern Border Coalition. "I am proud when I can say to Congress that Northwest companies in my home state can be key players in protecting our country. Northwest innovation and technology will help improve border security efficiently and effectively. This is an opportunity for the Northwest to show we can help make communities safer and our local economy stronger."

During the immigration reform debate, Cantwell introduced a bipartisan proposal that directs the Department of Defense to use unmanned aerial vehicles to boost security along the northern border as part of a year long pilot program. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Conrad Burns (D-MT), Larry Craig (R-ID), and Patty Murray (D-WA) joined Cantwell to introduce the measure. Now, Cantwell is sending a letter to leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees asking them to keep the provision in the final version of the immigration bill.

"…UAVs…have contributed profoundly to border enforcement efforts along our southern border," wrote Cantwell. "UAVs have served as a force multiplier for our border security personnel, helping to expand the reach of our border patrol and local law enforcement. UAVs are capable of providing prolonged surveillance over remote portions of the border and provide critically important intelligence to border patrol agents on the ground… With much of the northern border crossing rural, forested and mountainous regions including the North Cascade Range in Washington, UAVs could provide an invaluable resource as we continue striving to eliminate surveillance gaps between points of entry."

UAVs have been tested and used along America's southern border. Using UAVs along the 4,000-mile-long northern border would not only expand the reach and effectiveness of border agents in a cost-effective way, but would also provide opportunities for Washington-based companies like Insitu, which makes UAVs, and HH Bauer, which makes cases used to transport UAVs. Insitu is well known for its ScanEagle UAVs, which have flown more than 14,000 combat hours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism.

Following the event in Vancouver and a demonstration by Insitu of the UAV assembly process, Cantwell traveled to Bingen, Washington for a tour of Insitu's UAV manufacturing facility.

Limited use of UAVs for border surveillance on the southern border in Arizona under Operation Safeguard— an initiative launched in 2003—has shown that UAVs can fill security gaps along America's borders. Cameras and other sensors mounted on UAVs can identify objects as small as a shoebox from altitudes as high as 60,000 feet. UAVs can also provide precise and real-time imagery to a ground control operator for prolonged periods of time over a wide area. Ground operators can then disseminate the information gathered so that informed decisions regarding the deployment of border patrol agents to intercept illegal immigrants, drug smugglers, and other illegal activities can be made quickly.

UAVs may provide a less expensive solution than manned aircraft for conducting surveillance on our borders. For example, the P-3 manned aircraft used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cost $36 million each. Blackhawk helicopters, which are frequently used on America's borders, including Washington state's border with Canada, cost $8.6 million each. However, the benefit of the Blackhawk's relative low cost is diminished by its lack of endurance. Blackhawks have a maximum endurance of just over 2 hours before needing to refuel.

[The text of Cantwell's letter to House and Senate Judiciary Committee leaders follows below]

June 1, 2006

Dear Chairmen Specter and Sensenbrenner and Ranking Members Leahy and Conyers:

I write today to request that Senate Amendment #4178, included in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S.2611) as part of the Manager's Package, remain in the final version of the bill that emerges from conference.

This bipartisan amendment, offered by Senator Baucus and cosponsored by myself and Senators Burns, Craig, and Murray, directs the Department of Defense (DoD) to conduct a pilot project to assess the viability of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as part of our border security infrastructure along the northern border of the United States. This amendment builds upon the proposed Secure Border Initiative by enhancing the use of technology to secure our borders.

As you know, UAVs tested under Operation Safeguard have contributed profoundly to border enforcement efforts along our southern border. UAVs have served as a force multiplier for our border security personnel, helping to expand the reach of our border patrol and local law enforcement. UAVs are capable of providing prolonged surveillance over remote portions of the border and provide critically important intelligence to border patrol agents on the ground. Overall, the introduction of UAVs to survey our southern border has strengthened our security and made our agents more effective and efficient.

To date, UAV's have not been tested on the northern border despite a provision contained within the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 which specifically called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to test advanced technology, including UAVs, on the northern border. Although the 4000-mile northern border is nearly twice the length of the southern border, border patrol agents deployed along the northern border equal only 10 percent of the force positioned on the southern border.

With much of the northern border crossing rural, forested and mountainous regions including the North Cascade Range in Washington, UAVs could provide an invaluable resource as we continue striving to eliminate surveillance gaps between points of entry. We must evaluate UAVs as a resource that may play an important role in securing the northern border. With federal resources spread thin between more than 400 official and non-official points of entry along the northern border, we must take full advantage of available, proven, efficient and effective technology.

As House and Senate conferees meet to consider comprehensive immigration reform, which includes critically important provisions to secure our borders, I respectfully request that Senate Amendment #4178 remain in the final conference agreement that emerges. It is critical that we determine any potential role UAVs may play in securing the northern border. I look forward to working with you all as we continue our efforts to secure our borders and our nation.

Sincerely,

Maria Cantwell
United States Senator

http://cantwell.senate.gov/news/record.cfm?id=256439&&days=30&

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