U.S. begins air patrols south of Canadian Prairie border
U.S. Department of Homeland Security opened its third air surveillance basefocused on the Canadian borderon Monday, eroding claims the shared border is the longest undefended one in the world.
The Great Falls Air Branch in Montana will patrol the border thatAlberta and Saskatchewan share with Montana and North Dakota. When fully staffed, the operation run by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is expected to consist of 52 federal law enforcement officers, pilots, aircrew and support personnel.
Dennis Lindsay, the director of air operations at the branch, said it will conduct regular patrols and be able to respond quickly to any incidents.
"We're here because we see a vulnerability along the northern border," said Lindsay. "We want to make sure we're doing everything within our power to counter that vulnerability and close it up."
The branch's fleet includes two Blackhawk helicopters and three additional aircraft equipped with highly sensitive radar and infrared cameras. Plans call for unmanned drones in the future.
Juan Munoz Torres of Homeland Security said the higher security is a new reality both countries mustget used to.
"I understand the concerns some Canadians have," said Munoz Torres. "However we have to understand we are not playing the same game we were playing before September 11th."
"We are here to stay," he added.
The air branch joins those in Bellingham, Washington, and Plattsburgh, N.Y. Two more bases are slated to open next year, in Detroit and Grand Forks, N.D.