US Border Patrol purchases over $1 million in drones

The U.S. Border Patrol is set to get more than $1 million in new drones.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently placed a $1,046,806 order with Teal Drones to purchase the Utah-based drone maker’s Golden Eagle drones. The Teal Golden Eagle typically starts at $7,450 for the drone, and $4,350 for the controller (with ISM Band radio), so the order will presumably cover a decent-sized fleet.

The Teal Golden Eagle drones will be used to “provide supplemental airborne reconnaissance, surveillance, and tracking capability to enhance situational awareness for field commanders and agents in areas that lack nearby traditional surveillance systems or available manned air support,” according to a statement from Teal.

The $1 million order include not just Teal’s Golden Eagle drones, but also accessories such as plus battery packs and chargers, propellers, gimbal-mounted cameras, carrying cases. It’ll also go toward operator training sessions, including “train-the-trainer” sessions.

Those new Golden Eagle drones are set to join the existing U.S. Border Patrol fleet of 150 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and 20 fixed wing small drones. The U.S. Border Patrol has set that drones are particularly helping in providing security along remote, isolated and inaccessible portions of U.S. borders, while also offering ground reconnaissance, surveillance and risk tracking (RST) capabilities.

“The ability to persistently and discreetly surveil remote access restricted areas along portions of the border is critical to USBP’s ability to secure the border,” according to a memo in the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Overview provided to Congress by the Department of Homeland Security.

What to know about the Teal Golden Eagle Drone

Teal’s Golden Eagle Drone initially launched publicly in fall 2020 after some pilot programs with hand-selected companies and government agencies.

Among its top features include:

  • A Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 mobile computing platform with real-time edge processing
  • Aerial data security features including AES 256 encryption and secure boot capability
  • A swappable payload at the front of the system that stabilizes two cameras – a surveillance-grade 4K sensor and a high-sensitivity FLIR thermal sensor
  • Front-facing obstacle avoidance, wide-angle visual inertial odometry, and onboard artificial intelligence
  • A high-voltage propulsion system
  • A lightweight airframe that can fly at more than 50 mph for up to 50 minutes, across operational ranges of more than 2 miles, and in extreme environments of 30+ MPH of wind resistance

The drone also stands out for its capabilities in supporting night-specific missions.

The award is a piece of a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) announced last December between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and five drone companies (including Teal). Under that agreement, the government could spend up to roughly $90 million over a five-year period on products made by one of those five companies. Each of the companies that the government could buy drones from are participants in the exclusive Blue UAS program, which gives designation to companies who build U.S. military-compliant drones (they’re typically American drone companies). The U.S. government has been particular about the types of drones it’ll use given concerns such as data privacy, and some government agencies have explicitly banned use of certain types of drones.

Given that this order is just $1 million, there could potentially be more to come from Teal if the contract is successful, as well as other companies participating in the BPA. BPAs are common form of government contract because it makes it easier for the contractor and buyer to fill recurring orders while typically entailing quantity discounts — not to mention it can save significant administrative time and reduce paperwork. 

Teal was acquired by its now-parent company Red Cat Holdings last summer. RedCat, which is based in Puerto Rico, owns a number of companies that provide drone products, technologies and services, and the company has lately been emphasizing making complex, sophisticated drone products for militaries globally. Earlier this year, Teal supplied 15 Golden Eagle drone units, plus spares and training to an unspecified NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member country, which said it would use them for deployment in Ukraine.

Since the acquisition, Red Cat has invested in growing Teal, including building a larger, new manufacturing facility for Teal in Salt Lake City, Utah — the same city where Teal is headquartered.

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