PHOENIX - You may not know it, but there is a stealth surveillance system watching over Arizona, and there's a controversy brewing about its cost and effectiveness.
The system is a kind of aircraft that monitors who is crossing the border into the United States.
The aircraft is called the Predator B.
It is an unmanned aerial vehicle – or UAV – that a team of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents use to patrol the border between Arizona and Mexico.
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There are currently three Predator B aircraft being used in Arizona – more than any other state.
The aircraft is operated remotely by pilots located inside a small trailer on Fort Huachuca Air Force Base in southern Arizona. It is nearly silent and undetectable from the ground, and can patrol in complete darkness. From high up in the sky, the Predator’s cameras can locate border crossers and smugglers carrying backpacks filled with drugs.
“I can tell whether somebody's carrying narcotics on their back or whether they're just an average person walking out on a trail,” said David Gasho, Director of Aviation Operations.
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According to the federal government, just one Predator aircraft and its control station costs about $12.5 million.
The government also claims the Predator program has led to the detection and detention of at least 5,000 undocumented immigrants and the seizure of 25,000 pounds of drugs in Arizona since 2005.
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