CBP Completes Upgrade of Aerostat Surveillance System

Washington - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine, recently announced full operations of eight helium-filled balloon surveillance systems, which will provide radar coverage of the U.S. / Mexico border, south Florida and Puerto Rico areas.

“CBP’s restoration of this program to full operation for the first time in three years reinforces our commitment to provide continuous, persistent surveillance to those border areas most in need, both through air and maritime detection,” said General Randolph D. Alles, Assistant Commissioner of OAM.

The Tethered Aerostat Radar System or TARS, uses helium for deployment to heights as high as 10,000 to 12,000 feet. This allows long-range radars to overcome line-of-sight constraints caused by the curvature of the earth and other terrain limitations. The aerostats are tethered to a winch system on the ground and are lowered when not in use.

These powerful surveillance tools are used by CBP’s Air and Marine Operations Center to provide border monitoring and enforcement of low-level aircraft and small vessels approaching the border. TARS have proven to be important and cost effective tools in thwarting illegal drug and human smuggling since they were first deployed in the U.S. more than 30 years ago.

The former U.S. Customs Service began the aerostat program in 1978 and the U.S. Air Force expanded it in the 1980s to provide monitoring capabilities to several federal agencies. In 2013, CBP assumed responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the systems.

CBP’s aerostat radar system sites are:

  • Yuma, Arizona;

  • Ft. Huachuca, Arizona;

  • Deming, New Mexico;

  • Marfa, Texas;

  • Eagle Pass, Texas;

  • Rio Grande City, Texas;

  • Cudjoe Key, Florida;

  • Lajas, Puerto Rico.

Full operation of the Marfa, Texas, TARS site – the last of eight stations – was achieved Sept. 24, under the guidance of CBP’s Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition.