US testing surveillance balloons along border

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The U.S. Border Patrol will evaluate the use of three helium-filled surveillance balloons along the Texas-Mexico border that were originally used by the Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Standing beneath a 52-foot-long tethered balloon on Thursday in Penitas, the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector Chief Rosendo Hinojosa said the blimp-shaped aerostat would help intercept smuggling along the busiest section of the Southwest border.


“This is going to give us a capability we don’t have here,” Hinojosa said.

During a similar demonstration last year, an aerostat tethered 2,500 feet above the ground easily made out the make, model and color of vehicles a couple of miles away. Their infrared cameras are controlled by operators inside computer-filled shipping containers near where the balloons are anchored. Many of the devices were previously used in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide security around bases.

John Milne, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s site director for the project, said the six-month trial will allow the agency to evaluate how the technology can be applied at the border.

The large white balloon displayed Thursday had a 1,300-foot tether, though it was hovering just above its trailer in gusty winds. Milne said its camera can reach five to 10 miles in optimal weather conditions.

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