While much has been made of the explosive
growth in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) employment of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) over the past decade, perhaps
less noticed is that the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs & Border Protection (CBP) – under the leadership
of retired USAF Major General Michael Kostelnik has sought to leverage DoD investment in UAS to field and operate a growing
fleet of its own unmanned aircraft for missions over land and, increasingly, maritime areas of responsibility.
One of the knocks leveled against the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) since its 2002 inception has been the inability of the organization to effectively develop, procure and manage materiel
and services. Indeed, the just-announced but long-anticipated termination of the SBInet “virtual
fence” program has underscored the Agency’s challenges in this regard.Although
the Department of Defense (DoD) is not necessarily or often cited as the best example of how to manage R&D or procurement
programs, those inside and outside of DHS and DoD have observed that DHS would do well to harness what the DoD has developed
in both dual-use materiel and in senior program management personnel and competencies.
In tapping retired USAF Major General Michael C. Kostelnik to be the Assistant Commissioner of Custom & Border Protection’s
Office of Air and Marine and in General Kostelnik’s leveraging the USAF investment in UAS, DHS has done exactly that.
Kostelnik, who came to DHS in 2005 following a three-year stint as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Station and
Space Shuttle, served 32 years of active duty in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, experimental test pilot, ACAT I Systems Program Director,
Designated Acquisition Commander, and Air Force Material Command’s Armaments Center commander.
Having served in such
roles as the Vice Commander, Air Force Material Command, Commander, Air Armament Center, Vice Commander, Warner Robins Air
Logistics Center, Director of Special Access Programs, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Commandant of the USAF Test
Pilot School, Systems Program Director for the Short-Range Attack Missile II, F-117, B-1B Conventional, and AC-130U Gunship,
General Kostelnik brought to CBP an arguably unparalleled pedigree to identify system requirements, manage system development,
and acquire and support advanced aerospace systems for the new organization.
In contrast to the Air Force, however, General Kostelnik found in CBP an organization with
negligible R&D money, far less acquisition funding and, therewith, considerably less margin for error in its materiel
acquisition decisions. Tasked with fielding an unmanned aircraft intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
(ISR) capability for the Office of Air and Marine given these constraints, Kostelnik tells DSJ that he needed to look no farther
than the PREDATOR UAS – a system with which he had been involved from its earliest days as a classified program.
In adopting General Atomics’ PREDATOR B – and now the “marinized” GUARDIAN version of the
platform -- on a sole-source basis, Kostelnik argues that CBP leveraged a decade of development, procurement and proven operational
experience including over a million flight hours, and thus vastly reduced CBP’s risk in the procurement.
Beyond capturing this sunk investment, Kostelnik notes that by selecting the PREDATOR platform, CBP is able to take
advantage of the Air Force’s existing operating and support infrastructure to help OAM ensure its high operational tempo
and CBP is able to ride the coattails of the USAF’s investments in incremental PREDATOR air vehicle and payload improvements.
“Unique Performance Advantages” of UAS
With 280 aircraft of twenty-two different types in its inventory
– including sixteen P-3 ORION aircraft that OAM is in the process of spending hundreds of millions to upgrade –
one might question CBP’s need to field a fleet of unmanned aircraft systems. According to Kostelnik,
it is the “unique performance advantages” of the PREDATOR, including “extended time on station” and
the reduced visual signature unique to UAS that allow it to perform what he terms “a very select group of high risk
Kostelnik also touts the PREDATOR’s significant
cost advantages over manned assets in terms of both acquisition cost – at $20 million, a full-up PREDATOR UAS with payload
and ground station comes in at half the cost of a P-3 upgrade (not to mention the sunk investment in the aircraft)
– and in operations – PREDATOR can be manned with half the crew of a P-3.
Kostelnik notes that CBP
operation of PREDATOR also makes great sense for another related reason: seamless interoperability with existing DoD force
structure in the event of national emergency. Noting that the vast majority of DoD’s PREDATOR assets
are deployed OCONUS today, General Kostelnik observes that CBP has the most advanced MALE UAS fleet and operators in the homeland,
and a fleet and set of well trained operators that could, at a moment’s notice, be “CHOP’ed” –
Change in Operational Command – to DoD control.
This said, Kostelnik cautions
that UAS are not able to wholly replace manned aircraft now or in the future, noting that fundamental limitation to CBP’s
use of UAS is access to the National Air Space (NAS). While CBP now has extended COAs for PREDATOR B use
in the NAS, this will remain an issue. A further limiting factor, Kostelnik notes, is “the sensitivity
of the PREDATOR B to convective activity [bad weather].” CBP will require its P-3 fleet – the
service life of which is currently being extended through 2025 – moving forward.
The UAS Training and Manning Challenge
Koselnik tells DSJ that, as with the Military Services, the greatest challenges confronting CBP’s UAS operations
have to do with training and manning available UAS platforms rather than with the number of platforms that CBP has in its
inventory. CBP attributes some of its past problems with UAS operations
– and its one PREDATOR B loss – to contractor operations, so CBP, according to Kostelnik determined to train its
own pilots and payload operators and organically operate its own assets.
Today, CBP has 41 personnel -- FAA-certified and rated pilots, mostly cross-trained C-130 pilots -- qualified as UAS pilots
and 36 personnel qualified as Sensor Operators supporting its UAS program. 22 of the 36 Sensor Operators
are dual-qualified to fly the UAS as well. This number includes four USCG pilots and two USCG sensor operators
supporting the UAS program.
The GUARDIAN UAS & U.S. Coast Guard
Over the past two years, Kostelnik and CBP have sought to extend their success in PREDATOR UAS operations to maritime environments
via the GUARDIAN – a PREDATOR B derivative equipped with a Raytheon SeaVue maritime radar payload.The CBP’s first (and only) GUARDIAN maritime UAS completed its Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) in
March 2010. CBP is pleased with the performance of the system and payload.
CBP is currently flying GUARDIAN operations – along with other
manned aircraft ops -- from Cape Canaveral in the Bahamas / Key West AOR, feeding imagery to SOUTHCOM and the U.S. Coast Guard’s
(USCG) Region 7. Indeed, CBP has been a partner with the USCG in the land-based operation of the PREDATOR
B for years and this cooperation continues with a CBP-USCG Joint Program Office that manages GUARDIAN deployment and which
feeding imagery directly to USCG District 7. Kostelnik indicates that CBP is currently training USCG officials
to operate the GUARDIAN at the Cape Canaveral site and he indicates that the USCG “seems happy to continue with the
CBP “plans a spring 2011 deployment of
the GUARDIAN to a Central American country in association with JIATF-South” and expects the USCG to be fully involved.
Delivery of a second GUARDIAN aircraft -- likely be based at NAS Corpus Christi --
is expected imminently. CBP is presently receiving two PREDATOR B vehicles annually and will very soon have ten operational
systems – 7 PREDATOR Bs and 3 GUARDIANS. CBP has an overall acquisition of objective of 24 aircraft
by 2016, to include 18 PREDATOR B systems and 6 GUARDIAN UAS.
Beyond PREDATOR and GUARDIAN
Kostelnik notes that the USGC has not made a commitment to
the acquisition of GUARDIAN or even to the acquisition of a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE). Indeed,
he suggests that there is indication that a more pressing USGC need may be for a VTOL asset such as FireScout.
Beyond PREDATOR and
GUARDIAN, Kostelnik indicates that CBP is interested in the potential employment of other, smaller UAS for what might be termed
CBP special operations. Kostelnik notes that CBP has been looking at smaller and handheld UAS including
the BAT MAV, the WASP 2 and 3, and the Army’s PUMA UAS. “Here again, the objective is to leverage
Service investment and to operate exactly the same systems that they do, in order to reduce our cost and risk.”