SAN ANTONIO (Border Report) — Relocatable mobile surveillance towers that can be mounted on the backs of pickups are the latest high-tech innovation that Border Patrol agents are looking to help them patrol the Southwest border, agency officials said.

Speaking at the opening of the 14th annual Border Security Expo in San Antonio, leaders of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Border Patrol touted these compact towers as the singular piece of equipment they want to deploy on the border to reduce manpower costs, safeguard agents and be additional eyes and ears in the field.

Relocatable mobile surveillance towers “make sure when we deploy an agent it is on the right threat and the right time,” U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said Wednesday to a standing-room-only panel discussion.

“This technology holds promise, provides surveillance and reduces the number of people required to operate the system,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez told participants in the morning welcome address. “Reliable imaging can be relocated very rapidly and useful in rural terrain.”

Over 1,100 participants attended Day 1 of the conference, including a majority in border security and representatives of private industry hoping to show off their devices to federal officials and pick up lucrative contracts.

Read a Border Report story on DHS officials speaking about MPP at the Border Security Expo

Outside the ballroom where Scott spoke, an expo room was filled with the latest in high-tech border equipment, including ground sensors, camouflaged night cameras and a couple of mobile surveillance towers.

Bobby Brown, senior director for customs border direction for Elbit Systems of America, has designed the mobile towers for his Fort Worth, Texas-based company. He says the mobile towers can be up and running in four minutes and have multiple cameras and radar that can “see” up to 7.5 miles.

Shorter-range cameras also can be mounted on the unit, which comes with a night-imaging camera and a day camera “with a laser designator and top ground-based radar that can see out to 20 clicks,” Brown said.

The cameras also operate off renewable energy via battery packs charged by solar energy.

Bobby Brown of Elbit Systems of America describes on March 11, 2020, at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio a mobile surveillance tower, far right, that he has designed for his Fort Worth, Texas-based company. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“The next move the Border Patrol is looking at is to go into the relocatable, which is a tower mounted on a trailer that can be taken out into the desert, the northern plains, the Gulf of Mexico, can be set up in under an hour and run effectively and provide the assets of a permanent tower but it’s relocatable,” Brown said.

This can be useful in rugged and rural terrain and atop cliffs, such as Starr County, in South Texas where the Roma cliffs provide stunning vistas but difficult spots to mount permanent surveillance equipment, Border Patrol agents told Border Report on a ridealong through Starr County earlier this year.

At least one relocatable mobile tower is currently being used in Roma.

A remote mobile surveillance tower mounted on the back of a pickup truck is seen on Jan. 9, 2020, in rural Starr County near Roma, Texas near high cliffs. The equipment aids Border Patrol agents by shooting camera images. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Brown said CBP has purchased four units from his company and at the end of this month will deploy the units throughout the country, although the exact location is uncertain.

A big draw is “operating off the grid on renewable energy,” Perez said. “Flexibility … affordability are critically important.”

Perez said his agency wants “to deploy 150 to 200 of these types of systems in these remote areas to improve our operational control.” He said under the Fiscal 2021 budget, his agency has slated $28 million for tower devices. The total CBP budget for Fiscal 2021 is $15.6 billion and includes $2 billion for a border wall system.

Scott asked industry officials at the expo to help his agency design and think of the future of border security.

“We’re trying to get away from asking industry to build this or that for us,” Scott said. “Now we are asking the private sector what do you have off the shelf?”

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