U.S. to patrol Manitoba border with drone aircraft

The U.S. is preparing to use unmanned drone airplanes for surveillance of Manitoba's border with Minnesota and North Dakota.

The U.S. is preparing to useunmanned drone airplanes for surveillance of Manitoba's border with Minnesota and North Dakota.

The North Dakota branch will be the first on the northern border to use a drone, which will begin operations in April 2008. They are already used to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.

The unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, will be based at Grand Forks, N.D., and will be used to monitor border areas for the illegal transfer of drugs, weapons, people, and "who knows what else," said Michael Kostelnik of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"It's really the unknowns that gives one pause," he said.

"Given, you know, the risk associated with another event like 9/11 and the issues that are going on overseas in the Middle East… it's just prudent for people on both sides of our northern border to be more concerned with things that cross the border that aren't through the ports of entry, that aren't documented or aren't right.

The $6-million plane, which will not be armed,is loaded with $4 million in electronic sensors and equipment to make surveillance more efficient, officials said.

It will be safer to operate the drones in this part of the continent because there's "not a lot of infrastructure or people" in the area, Kostelnik said.

"This is a very large, rugged border — not only the land areas we have but the Great Lakes in particular —where it is very difficult through normal, non-obtrusive means to detect illicit transport of people or things," he said.

"The UAV is a good way on a non-interference basis to add some capabilities."

One ofthe UAVs will be on display Saturday during the formal opening of the new Northern Border Air Branch at the Grand Forks airport.

Three other air branches have opened near the Canadian border since the summer of 2004 to support border security in Washington, New York and Montana.

A fifth branch is scheduled to open in Detroit in May 2008.