As mission and deployment strategies for the National Guard are finalized to bolster security along the southwest border, another asset whose mission can also be expanded is the Civil Air Patrol.
With President Trump’s call for deploying the National Guard on April 4, border state governors have been mulling how their assets will be used. Troops from New Mexico, Arizona and California have begun deploying, while California wants assurances that troops will be limited to battling transnational crime. Preliminary reports indicated the Air National Guard would be among the first and more active assets deployed.
In an interview with Fox News, Border Patrol Chief Ron Vitiello said the National Guard’s role would be operational support, including aviation assets.
“Aviation is a big part of what we hope they bring,” said Vitiello.
In the meantime, CAP, the civilian-volunteer auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, flew 2,996 hours in FY17, 3,453 hours in FY16, and 3,546 in FY16 in support of border reconnaissance operations. According to John Desmarais, director of operations at CAP National Headquarters, the main reason for the lower hours in FY17 is because Texas crews were focused on disaster operations for over a month.
CAP units in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas are actively involved in the coordination of air assets and missions through regular meetings with DHS and other border security stakeholders.
“Every mission has a thorough legal review before we are authorized to support,” Desmarais said. “All of our crews supporting operations receive legal briefings to make sure they understand the limitations of the authorities we work under.”
Desmarais told Homeland Security Today that while their missions continue along the border there has been no concurrent request to step up reconnaissance patrols in conjunction with the National Guard deployment.
“Though there is interest, we have not been requested yet,” Desmarais said. “Our missions are generally coordinated through Joint Task Force North to answer requests for support they facilitate.”
Covering the nearly 2,000-mile southwest border by air and ground remains a daunting task. CBP Air and Marine Operations currently has seven air branches (El Paso, Laredo, McAllen, San Diego, Tucson, Uvalde, and Yuma) with assets that include 240 aircraft ranging from fixed-wing to unmanned aircraft systems to helicopters. Consequently, as with the ground units, AMO is also experiencing a staffing shortage – in this case, pilots.
As for CAP, there are limitations that can impact their involvement.
According to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report, DHS has emphasized the importance of partnering CAP with other federal, state, local, and private entities to achieve its homeland security missions, particularly in light of fiscal constraints that may compel federal agencies, such as DHS, to partner with other organizations in order to accomplish their missions and achieve their goals. CAP is one such potential partner, having performed various missions since its inception in support of homeland security missions and components.
The report went on to say that several factors affect CAP’s ability to conduct these and additional homeland security missions, including legal parameters, mission funding and reimbursement, existing capabilities, and capacity. At the same time, while some concerns exist among DHS components about partnering with CAP, a cost-effective assessment of CAP’s capabilities and resources, in coordination with the Air Force, could help DHS better identify whether CAP can assist with its future homeland security missions.
In a 2015 follow-up report, the GAO said DHS identified where CAP’s capabilities could be used to provide additional support. The assessment also identified technical and financial gaps that could continue to hamper use of CAP services by DHS.
Among the limitations Desmarais identified were personnel are primarily operating basic aircraft, not with higher-end sensors, limiting operations primarily to daytime. However, an Arizona unit does have a plane with infrared capability and can be used for night missions.
A strategic option for CAP could be to augment CBP AMO operations in California should Gov. Jerry Brown decide not to cooperate with the proscribed request for National Guard support from the Trump administration.
There are also definite benefits to increasing CAP’s mission – one is deployment cost. CAP operates relatively inexpensive aircraft, only about $165 per flying hour, utilizing volunteer personnel oftentimes from the local area who are familiar with the location.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.