Battlefield blimps to patrol U.S.-Mexico border

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. military is joining with border-patrol officials in a new initiative that could bring surveillance blimps previously used on the battlefields of Afghanistan to the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. officials hope that the 72-foot-long blimp, known as “the floating eye” among troops in Afghanistan, will help find drug runners and illegal immigrants along the border.

The military will oversee a test in south Texas to determine the blimp’s potential in an effort to establish a high-tech border surveillance network. The plan, if successful, will enable expensive military hardware to remain useful even upon troops’ return from Afghanistan.

Border officials are also exploring more than 100 other types of military gear, including hand-held instant-translation devices and highly sensitive sensors. However, the Department of Homeland Security is wary of costly mistakes in electronic border surveillance, as illustrated by its decision last year to cancel the billion-dollar SBInet initiative.

According to Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, the U.S. military is offering the surveillance drones to border officials free of charge. Homeland Security stands to gain other surplus gear worth $27 million if the tests are successful.

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