In a recent article in the Washington Post, journalist William Booth takes a closer look at how the US is using unmanned drone aircraft within its own borders. A lot of the usage actually happens just around the border. The Mexican border, to be specific.
The Predator drones used for most of these operations are mostly looking for illegal immigrants and drug runners. According to the article, the drones helped catch a total of 4,865 undocumented immigrants and 238 drug smugglers in the first 10,000 flying hours.
A little bit of math shows that that equals just under half an undocumented immigrant and a fiftieth of a drug smuggler per flying hour.
If you take a look at the number of illegal (ie. undocumented) immigrats the US catches at its border with Mexico, the math shows us a couple of things.
In 2011, 327,577 illegal immigrants were caught at the border in question. Compare that with the number caught with the help of the drones and you see that it’s a measly 1,5 per cent.
Now the drones in question are $20 million a pop, and the US Government has spent $240 million on drones for border patrols. That figure does not include the cost of actually running them in what is often a desert environment, one never know as the friendliest of places for mechanical or electronic equipment.
Now it’s very possible that the US Government has more drones than the one’s it has purchased for $240 million. But let’s for argument’s sake say that they’ve bought 240 / 20 = 12 Predator drones. If we spread them out across the US-Mexican border, they would each have to cover about 3169 / 12 = 264 kilometres of border each. For people in the UK (well, for everybody else as well) that equals about 2,75 times the entire border between Scotland and England.
Of course, the drones haven’t been bought to simply patrol a stretch of border, but perhaps the numbers can give some sort of idea that the 12 drones are either a sign of the future, with plenty more drones on the way, or just a big waste of money.