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The Military Technology

U.S. Border Patrol Drone Goes Down, Rest of Fleet Grounded 138

Posted by Soulskill
from the in-the-event-of-a-water-landing dept.
coondoggie writes "The U.S. Customs and Border Protection service said today it has grounded its nine remaining unmanned aircraft after one of them was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean. The unmanned aircraft had an unknown mechanical failure while on patrol off the southern California coast. The crew determined that it wouldn't make it back to Sierra Vista, Arizona, 'and put the aircraft down in the water.' The drone cost about $12 million. 'The Predator B, also known as the MQ-9 Reaper in the U.S. Air Force, can fly as many as 27 hours and reach an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), according to the website of Poway, California-based General Atomics. It has a wingspan of 66 feet (20 meters) and can carry more than 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of cameras, weapons or other payload, according to the company.'"
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U.S. Border Patrol Drone Goes Down, Rest of Fleet Grounded

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Anyone else read that as "of 3,000 pounds of cocaine, weapons or other payload"?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I just figured it was carrying your mother.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Anyone else read that as "of 1,361 kilos of cocaine, weapons or other payload"?

      FTFY

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        Anyone else read that as "of 1,361 kilos of cocaine, weapons or other payload"?

        FTFY

        The extra 1 kg was for the baggies, so he didn't include it in the total cocaine weight.

    • Do you think that the border patrol would risk a turf war with the CIA?

      Narco territory battles can get ugly...
    • You can buy a whole load of DJI Phantoms for that price. Quantity over quality.

      • by ScentCone (795499)
        And since you can keep a Phantom in the air for about 15 minutes, you'd need (using calculatore...) 108 of them for that same 27 hour mission. Sort of like getting nine women on that baby project so you can get it done in only one month, right?

        Even the "serious" small UAV's just can't come close to dealing with the weather, altitude, speed, and the rest that those big beasts are designed to handle. I'm almost surprised that they only cost $12m.

        Airplanes crash. It's going to happen. Can't make up for t
    • by fisted (2295862)
      Like I would read this far into the summary. What fucking kind of neckbeard are you taking me for?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wonder who will get there first.

  • by bob_super (3391281) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:29PM (#46096111)

    It's a shame that San Diego is now so huge that there isn't a single spot to land between the pacific and Arizona...

    • by BitZtream (692029) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:36PM (#46096169)

      Yea, I call bullshit.

      No one puts down a 12 million dollar drone in the Pacific because it couldn't make it several hundred miles inland instead of just landing it somewhere ... like say any one of the many airports military or otherwise they had to choose from.

      Or you fly it over some unpopulated beach and land it on the beach, or okay, so the camera's went out, you put a spotter aircraft on it and follow it home using the spotter for visuals.

      They didn't make a 'choice' to put it down in the ocean, it fucking crashed.

      • by turkeydance (1266624) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:44PM (#46096209)
        they put it 'down' to enhance their budget for next year. no individual in any agency in any government in the US is monetarily rewarded by coming in under budget.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:50PM (#46096239)

        I live in San Diego. They should have crashed it into my bed so I can go back in time through a baby universe and converse with a big ugly rabbit named Frank.

        • I live in San Diego. They should have crashed it into my bed so I can go back in time through a baby universe and converse with a big ugly rabbit named Frank.

          I don't think that worked out so well for Donnie in the end.

      • I would believe crashing somewhere in reach of a recovery crew if they were trying to get to an airport and it was apparent it was not going to get over land, no matter where it is based. My first guess is a mangled statement from the sound bite generators.
      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        They didn't specify what the problem was. It could have been anything from typical aircraft problems, to specialty drone problems. Failed powerplant (i.e., engine broke). Failed aerodynamic surfaces. Failed airframe during high stress maneuver. Inadvertent intersection of flight path with birds.

        Or the drone specific problems. Computer failure(s). Uplink failure(s). Intersection of bird with the camera.

        Their options may have been very limited. An intentional crash into the water (full throttle,

        • by plover (150551) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @10:32PM (#46096823) Homepage Journal

          I was thinking ditching it may have been a deliberate choice to keep it out of the hands of the American public. Just imagine some hackers getting to the wreckage first and disassembling the electronics and optics to learn its true capabilities.

          If you're going to rely on a secret weapon to keep the bad guys guessing, you have to keep it secret.

          • by JWSmythe (446288)

            Oops, I forgot to say that part. :) They don't want some civilian, or worse a foreign intelligence agency, getting a hold of one.

            Ditching in the desert, or ditching in the ocean, as long as it's a hard impact, would scatter pieces. In the ocean, it's much harder to find them and try to figure out how they went together. It's also harder to collect the pieces so others won't find them.

            On land, depending on where it hit and who was there, parts or all of it could be retrieved before gov't folks arrived.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Can you just imagine the shitstorm if a crippled drone crashed into a populated area? Or the embarrassment if it crashed in the middle of nowhere and a drug lord managed to get to it first?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You call BS? That's because you don't know what you are talking about. Take off and landings are performed by pilots and pretty much the only thing that's preferable to do autonomously. Just like commercial aviation most of the flying is done on autopilot.

        It's standard operating procedure that if a drone loses contact with the pilot/ground station it will loiter at a designated way point. If it can't reestablish communications withing a designated amount of time it does a controlled decent. Where is t

      • Depending on exactly what problem they had, it may have been an absolutely correct decision to put it down where it wouldn't hurt anyone. That is one of the big advantages of drones, you can ditch them without killing the pilot.

        There is a lot of empty space in San Diego,but there are a lot of crowded areas as well.

        12 mil is a lot, but not huge compared to the total budget, and better than killing someone - at least politically.

    • by flaming error (1041742) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:41PM (#46096187) Journal

      I know, it reads like that for me too. But if your UAV is going down, you ditch it the nearest place where it's unlikely to hit people.

      • I wonder if that bounty in some city in Colorado would apply here?
        • by Deadstick (535032)

          City? Deer Trail is 500 people living in one square mile around a truck stop.

        • by ScentCone (795499)

          I wonder if that bounty in some city in Colorado would apply here?

          You do know that isn't actually real, right? Just checking.

          • I know it's not real, (the drone hunting license part), but do the folks around Deer Trail know it?
            • by ScentCone (795499)

              I know it's not real, (the drone hunting license part), but do the folks around Deer Trail know it?

              Yes. Which is why their city council won't even entertain the idea, and it's just one guy there who's selling cheesy certificates online.

              • I just got this image of some duck hunter holding something that looks like a part of the down drone and in the other hand is the cheesy certificate; with a big toothy grin.
    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @09:07PM (#46096377)

      Drone: Confirmation on armament of payload?
      Pilot: Cancel armament
      Drone: Armament confirmed. Target 48 miles and closing.
      Pilot: CANCEL TARGET
      Drone: Confirmed, Arming warhead.
      Pilot: Warhead?!? Cancel Target!!!
      Drone: Nuclear detonation will destroy drone, confirm?
      Pilot: Nuclear? What?!?! Putting her down!!!

      *giggles from outside control room*

      Pilots friends: Dude we totally got you!! You thought it was going to launch a nuke!!! Hahahaha! Did you piss yourself?!?! Hahahaha!
      Pilot: No, I put her down in the pacific.
      *Pilots ex-friends back slowly out of the room*

    • It's a shame that San Diego is now so huge that there isn't a single spot to land between the pacific and Arizona...

      Customs and Border Protection says the drone was on a border security mission when a mechanical problem developed about 20 miles southwest of San Diego late Monday night. Spokesman Mike Friel says the crew operating the drone from Texas decided to crash it in the ocean.

      The $12 million surveillance drone was one of 10 that Homeland Security uses to patrol the border with Mexico. It was just one of two Predator B drones equipped with radar specifically designed to be used over the ocean.

      Friel says the cause of the mechanical failure is unknown and that the remainder of the drone fleet has been temporarily grounded while the investigation into the incident continues.

      DHS Drone Crashes Into Pacific off Calif Coast [go.com]

      The second direction the design took was the "Predator B-003", referred to by GA as the "Altair", which has a new airframe with an 84-foot (25.6 m) wingspan and a takeoff weight of about 7,000 pounds (3,175 kg). Like the Predator B-001, it is powered by a TP-331-10T turboprop. This variant has a payload capacity of 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg), a maximum ceiling of 52,000 feet (15.8 km), and an endurance of 36 hours.

      General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper [wikipedia.org]

      Ten tons. 36 hours. If your control of the aircraft is compromised, you bring it down over the water.

    • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @12:17AM (#46097287)
      Maybe they didn't have the choice to land it normally. If the drone will crash, it's better to crash it where there are no people rather than say, the middle of San Diego.

      This is not a hypothetical situation that has never happened before. For example, a passenger jet made an emergency landing [wikipedia.org] in the Hudson River in New York City in 2009. That beat running the plane through a building or belly flopping on a crowded street.
  • WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by samantha (68231) * on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:29PM (#46096117) Homepage

    Why do we need such powerful military grade drones just to keep tabs on illegal aliens crossing our borders? A bunch of cheap quadcopters with infrared and other cameras could do the job.

    • "First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?" S.R. Hadden

      Does anyone think that Moller [moller.com] has been embarssed enough lately?
    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by whois (27479) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @09:28PM (#46096497) Homepage

      Having played with cheap quadcopters, I feel there is a valid answer to this.

      Their battery life is shit and turbulence ruins any chance of it being a stable platform for imaging. Even if you fix it so they hover okay you'll still have issues having it follow a vehicle. Granted I'm not sure how well the drones they're using cope with any of this either.

      Also you gotta remember they're not looking for people crossing the border, they're looking for drugs. Or any other high value target that gets them money or press. If they saw an individual crossing a border they would probably just phone the local PD to check it out. It sounds like they're tailing boats and cars with the drones.

      • by MarkRose (820682)

        Cheap multicopters have come a long way. While battery life is still a concern, hovering in strong winds is not [youtube.com]. Combine that with an anti-vibration system and get very smooth imaging [youtube.com].

        The battery issue is solved by using aeroplanes, which use far less energy to stay airborne, and instead of hovering, circling the target.

        • by ScentCone (795499)

          The battery issue is solved by using aeroplanes, which use far less energy to stay airborne, and instead of hovering, circling the target.

          Which sill doesn't get you anything CLOSE to the ability to take off, travel hundreds of miles carrying extremely sophisticated (and heavy) optical/coms gear, and to work in the area for 24 hours non-stop.

      • by swb (14022)

        Is there something in between a full-on Predator and a battery powered quadrocopter? A gas powered quadrocopter for increased range and better sensor payload?

      • They should just ask the cia for the drugs, the CIA is the biggest importer you know.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Informative)

      by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @09:40PM (#46096561)

      Why do we need such powerful military grade drones just to keep tabs on illegal aliens crossing our borders?

      The fact that it ditched in the water while patrolling off the southern coast is a good indication that it was not patrolling for illegal immigrants, but rather for drug smugglers. They are very sophisticated, using not only fast boats, but also submarines. And the pacific ocean is way too big to patrol with toy quadrocopters.

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      More accurately how many border patrol agents would that $12 million have paid for? Of course the answer would be but where are the corporate profits in those government employed border patrol agents. Perhaps the US government could privatise border patrol, you know, like a bounty per illegal immigrant. Then corporations could set up operations around the US and bus, ship and fly in illegal immigrants for a token payment, 'er' catch them and return them, create new identities for them and rinse and repeat.

    • Why do we need such powerful military grade drones just to keep tabs on illegal aliens crossing our borders? A bunch of cheap quadcopters with infrared and other cameras could do the job.

      You wouldn't want General Atomics to think that their stock price is dependent on keeping us involved in shithole sand-traps, would you?

    • by PPH (736903)

      I was thinking along the lines of a Cessna 172 with pilot and observer. Or a couple to fly in shifts if 27 hours is important.

    • Since it was far enough out to sea that getting it back to land was problematic, it was probably patrolling for drug runners, not illegal aliens. Those guys in the home built one-shot subs bringing in the Columbia coke, a thousand kilos at a time.

      • So I guess those subs now have AAA batteries?

        • Read up on it.

          The Columbian cartels have been developing diesel powered fiberglass hulled subs with snorkels that can remain submerged for long distances, like South America to California waters. They do not go deep, but they go deep enough that they are undetectable. They are quite fast. They are disposable: once the cargo is transferred to a fishing boat or pleasure boat close to USA shores, the sub is scuttled. Looking for the telltale of the snorkel must be like looking for a mechanical dolphin in the

    • But less military spending is bad for the economy, right?

      Right?

      • Looking at the state the US is in, I can't really say that MORE military spending is good for it either.

  • by dohzer (867770) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:37PM (#46096173) Homepage
    Thanks for the heads up; see you on the other side.
  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:40PM (#46096181)
    It will likely take a crash into a heavily populated area before drones are regulated much.

    Has it occurred to the government how deadly effective these new toys could be in the wrong hands?

    It's Superbowl week, just saying...

    • Please complete this sentence:
      I think they already [are/are not] in the wrong hands.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      I have trouble just keeping track of all the blimps during superbowl week, and now I have to worry about drones too?

    • already been done: BlackSunday...http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075765/
    • by reboot246 (623534)
      Imagine a couple of dozen drones waiting in a couple of dozen garages just a few miles from the Super Bowl. They're all launched at the same time and they're all carrying explosives. It wouldn't take long for them to reach their target. Can we expect the security in and around the stadium to stop all of them? That's why I'm not going to the game. Call it self-preservation. Too many nutcases in the world and just too risky.
      • That's why I'm not going to the game. Call it self-preservation.

        Or paranoia.

        Too many nutcases in the world and just too risky.

        ...said the TSA as they asked for a doubling of their funding.

  • Maybe it was Iran (or a Mexican cartel) busting the RSA-based encryption that scared the Border Patrol.
    One hundred twenty million dollars for 10 drones. It probably came out of the US' food stamp budget.
  • Sabotage?.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @09:18PM (#46096435) Homepage
    If sabotaging one border-patrolling drone grounds all the rest of them, what better way to help those poor aliens sneak into the US — illegally?
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @09:52PM (#46096649)

    How long until the Mexican drug cartels start contracting out for anti-drone drones?

    If $10,000 buys an anti-drone drone, it would be a cheap way to take out a $12M drone and rack up huge expenses on the American side.

    Amateurs have already built a 366mph jet powered UAV (faster than the MQ-9 drone) - I'm sure on the international black market, better quality drones are already available. And they get bonus PR points if they can get the drone to crash on a populated area (or truck the remains of the crashed drone to a populated area) showing what a menace they are.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @10:03PM (#46096703) Journal
      Isn't an 'anti-drone drone' called a 'surface to air missile'?
    • by vux984 (928602)

      If $10,000 buys an anti-drone drone,

      Surface to air missile? Like a stinger... costs around $40k??

      Question is could it hit a drone? Military doing a strike...or surveillance? Hard to say.

      Border patrol tailing civilians and cars... yeah I think maybe.

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        If $10,000 buys an anti-drone drone,

        Surface to air missile? Like a stinger... costs around $40k??

        Question is could it hit a drone? Military doing a strike...or surveillance? Hard to say.

        Border patrol tailing civilians and cars... yeah I think maybe.

        I assumed that traditional SAM's were out of reach for many organizations, but some guy in his basement could create a jet powered UAV for not a lot of money. Add a detonator to unfurl some wire cable, and you don't even need a direct hit to foul the propeller on a prop driven drone like the MQ-9.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        If $10,000 buys an anti-drone drone,

        Surface to air missile? Like a stinger... costs around $40k??

        Question is could it hit a drone? Military doing a strike...or surveillance? Hard to say.

        Border patrol tailing civilians and cars... yeah I think maybe.

        And given the height at which drones fly, you'll need something bigger than a Stinger (or a much cheaper SA-7). An SA 7 has a flight ceiling of 2,500 m and max range of 5 KM.

        You could probably get some SA 2's relatively cheap (not sure how cheap, my black market contacts aren't what they used to be) but good luck hiding an SA2 launch site and accompanying RADAR array.

  • It was the Tijuana Air Defense Network.

    Horale Vatos!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's right about the Coronado Islands which are in the waters of Mexico. Was the drone operating at sea? Perhaps looking for high speed pangas running pot and cocaine to California? If they were flying over the border on land, why couldn't they have landed at Halsey Field or Miramar NAS?

  • Cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:17PM (#46097019)
    [commie]

    Wonder how many school lunches you could have served to poor kids for twelve million dollars.

    [/commie]
    • Go back to Russia, com-! Oh, you did that one already.

    • by wjh31 (1372867)
      if you do lunch for say $2 each, then you could get 6 million lunches, which covers about a third of all the poor children in the us for one meal for one day. (http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/)
  • ...a licensed drone hunter is celebrating and punching his tag. Too bad he won't be able to retrieve and field dress his kill.
  • Screw dredging for gold.... If one of these suckers is worth 18 million bucks, I'm diving for that!

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