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Government The Almighty Buck The Military United States

DHS's Ongoing Drone Boondoggle (defenseone.com) 77

schwit1 writes: Spoofing is far from the only problem facing Department of Homeland Security and the way it gets drones to the border. In addition to giving grants to law enforcement agencies to purchase UAVs, DHS also has many of its own. Last year, the department's own inspector general declared that DHS drone purchasing program, which had spent $360 million since 2005 — $62 million in 2013 alone — was largely a failure. DHS had taken delivery of 11 MQ-9 Reaper drones, unarmed but otherwise similar to the ones used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. DHS anticipated that the cost per flight hour would be $2,468, far lower than the actual $12,225. The agency was using accounting tricks to move the costs of pilots, equipment, and overhead off the books. Even the actual flights hours — 5,102 — were a fraction of the promised 23,296.
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DHS's Ongoing Drone Boondoggle

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  • by Notorious G ( 4223193 ) on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @12:22PM (#51165887)
    Wait, are you telling me the government lied? What? That's shocking!
    • by zlives ( 2009072 )

      they only lied as much as you wanted them to :)
      but in the mean time some one got to play with reaper drones and boy was that fun.

    • Forget all that. The pathetic dhs was a farce from the getgo. Anybody who actually thinks the dhs (dept of homosexual sociopaths) has done anything ever other than to pomulgate the rampant govt corruption (tsa is no different garbage) is a fucking idiot straight up. They should see if they can successfully fly a drone up their ass. I'd be proud.
      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Think of it this way... Now, you're getting a "free" rub-down every time you fly. The best part is it's not even truly free but someone else is paying for it!

        Here's what you do... The next time they pat you down, close your eyes half way, let your jaw drop open, and moan a loud moan of delight.

        Oddly, that ties in with a post earlier today. Yes, yes I have patted down detainees and yes, yes they were Marines. I can tell you, without a doubt, you'll leave a lasting impression on the person who did your pat se

  • Who runs DHS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @12:29PM (#51165931)

    That person is destroying, not securing the homeland. That person should be in jail.

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @12:34PM (#51165975)
    Wouldn't something like a relatively peaceful border between two nations that are nominally at-peace, be a lot more cost-effectively administered by slow moving airships, with only a handful of rapid-response aircraft used solely for interdiction purposes?

    Obviously no single technology is going to work to secure a border as long as the US-Mexico frontier, but it seems like the concept of using powered flight is somewhat misapplied here, especially if the costs are somehow as high as the article implies.
    • The government versions of those $3 million blimps cost $45 million each. Before cost overruns.

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        Have these people never heard of a Cessna?

        You can find plenty of pilots who would jump at the chance to get hours in.

    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @12:41PM (#51166039) Homepage

      The short version is they've lied, mismanaged funds, and taken steps to cover it up.

      You're trying to come up with a sensible solution, which is utterly pointless when discussing a huge government agency spending like drunken monkeys and getting very little value for all that money.

      The takeaway here is DHS get given huge sums of money on the claims they're making us safer ... when the reality is they are apparently incompetent, dishonest, and utterly failing to do their basic mission except by sheer accident.

      That they're doing accounting tricks to hide this says they know damned well they're a bunch of clowns who are mis-spending money.

      Why is nobody being charged with fraud?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        utterly failing to do their basic mission except by sheer accident

        Hasn't their basic mission been to funnel money to defense contractors? Isn't that why the agency was created? By that measure, it seems like they are doing fine. If their mission really is to provide a service to the general public, then yes, they are failing horribly and wasting a lot of money.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You don't actually know that any of your assertions is true, only that you are free to claim anything you want.

        I don't know how they estimated cost per flight hour either before the program started or after. The actual costs
        of fuel and pilot time are far less. Based on my 40 years of flying and aircraft ownership, I guess $500-600 per hour
        for both. Most likely a change in accounting assumptions in the depreciation and in what
        the agency decides to escrow for maintenance costs. Not lying. I'll bet you nev

        • You don't actually know that any of your assertions is true, only that you are free to claim anything you want.

          Bullshit.

          Do you know what the title of the linked PDF is:

          U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Unmanned Aircraft System Program Does Not Achieve Intended Results or Recognize All Costs of Operations

          I may be paraphrasing, but I'm sticking with inept clowns, failing to achieve desired outcomes, and failing to account for the program as they are expected to.

          The Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) C

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          Most likely a change in accounting assumptions in the depreciation and in what the agency decides to escrow for maintenance costs.

          Actually, the most likely difference is in the number of drones that a single pilot is able to successfully manage versus the projected number. The thing about military drones is that they're designed to be mostly autonomous, with only periodic intervention whenever action is needed (e.g. shooting someone, examining images to determine whether someone is doing something that the

          • "the most likely difference is in the number of drones that a single pilot is able to successfully manage versus the projected number"

            On an aircraft the size of a MQ9, the wages of the pilot(s) are a minor part of the entire cost, whether that pilot is handling 1 or 4 aircraft is neither here nor there (other than the one-off cost of the piloting station)

            The fact is it's a _large_ airframe powered by a turboprop, which automatically means high fuel consumption and high periodic maintenance costs on the gas-

      • Replaced DHS with TSA. Argument still valid.
    • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve ( 949321 ) on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @02:01PM (#51166593)

      Wouldn't something like a relatively peaceful border between two nations that are nominally at-peace, be a lot more cost-effectively administered by slow moving airships, with only a handful of rapid-response aircraft used solely for interdiction purposes?

      My first job after graduating college was working as a programmer for a branch of the US military that I don't want to name. I'm not forbidden to name it and I have a lot of respect for the men and women who are in it, but man, I saw a lot of dumb technology moves while I was there, which is why I'm being charitable in not naming them. Basically what happens is that some branch of the government, in this case DHS, gets some money and says "Wow! Drones are cool! Let's buy a bunch!" because some manager type (in the US military, this may be a high ranking officer not a civilian) gets a hard on for some new technology. Nobody ever stops to think if it's actually practical or makes sense or is economically reasonable. We saw a lot of wasted money thrown in the trash when I worked on that government job and we weren't really happy about it, but the whole system is setup in such a way that there's no real way to stop this kind of purchase. It's not just another "DHS is the suxor!" kind of thing as Slashdotters want to think. Any part of the US government could have done the same dumb pointless thing.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Any part of the US government could have done the same dumb pointless thing.

        and DHS excels at spending lots of money on these dumb pointless things.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        Thing is, I could see drones having an application here. Set up a drone operation per so many hundred miles of border, where that drone responds when the cheaper tech (ie, airships, balloons, even static towers) identifies that there's an indication that a closer look is needed, or when there's a need to follow a party that has crossed before officers can respond in person.

        Drones could even be useful where the air currents or weather do not readily let lighter-than-air craft operate, or where population
        • "Thing is, I could see drones having an application here. Set up a drone operation per so many hundred miles of border"

          Border patrol is cheaper, less likely to make mistakes and given the ground is friendly, there's nothing preventing you running sensors along the border to do this. Aircraft are not needed, except to interdict airborne smuggling operations and history has shown that the most extensive of those were actually operated by the CIA (virtually the entire USA crack epidemic was fuelled by CIA carr

  • $12k / Hour? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bbsguru ( 586178 ) on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @12:38PM (#51166001) Homepage Journal
    I would be happy to save Uncle Sam 10% of that, and get plenty of seat time in my log book.
    I'm sure a lot of other private pilots would be glad to do the same.

    Which airstrip shall we report to?
    • You just might be on to something here. A chance for any average American to be patriotic, save our country (we won't go much into that) and get high caliber drone experience that could later be translated into blowing other people up. After all, we do need more drone pilots - the military is really hurting for qualified people.

      I think you've stumbled on to a great idea here.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Why do you need highly expensive drones, when you can have a C172 every 100 miles along the lines you need them for 10% of the cost?

        Bavaria is doing that to do fire surveys during high-risk times. The government is paying for the operation hours of C172s, P28A, and similar. Pilots are volunteers.

      • Re:$12k / Hour? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @01:20PM (#51166273) Journal

        Wont work. Civilians can't be told to unsee things as well.

      • You are missing the point totally. I can provide myself and an aircraft for $250/hr and make a decent living. The drones cost a TON more than other ways to put a sensor platform in the same place.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @02:01PM (#51166599)

    Last year, the departmentâ(TM)s own inspector general declared that DHS drone purchasing program, which had spent $360 million since 2005 â" $62 million in 2013 alone â" was largely a failure.
    [...]
    DHS anticipated that the cost per flight hour would be $2,468, far lower than the actual $12,225. The agency was using accounting tricks to move the costs of pilots, equipment, and overhead off the books. Even the actual flights hours â" 5,102 â" were a fraction of the promised 23,296.

    $12,225/hr * 5,102 hrs = $62.4 million, which is exactly the 2013 budget for this program. 23,296 hours over 11 drones over one year is 24% flight time per drone which sounds like a pretty reasonable expectation. Over 8 years ramped up (constant rate of drone purchases throughout the period), it would be only 6% flight time, which seems highly unlikely. If they bought the drones all at once at the start of the program, it would be 3% expected flight time, which if true you'd be questioning why the program was even approved in the first place. So most likely those hour figures are for 2013 only.

    If you take $12,225/hr of fixed costs, and distribute them over 23,296 hrs instead of 5,102 hrs, you get $12225*5102/23296 = $2,677/hr. Only 8% more than the anticipated $2,468/hr.

    So basically, the program has cost only 8% more than what they estimated it would cost. They've just been able to keep the drones aloft for a lot fewer hours than expected (cost of pilots being traded off for cost of maintenance crew). The reporter, trying to exaggerate things to make his story sound bigger than it really is, then converted that overall cost into cost per flight hour and compared on that basis since it showed the biggest cost overrun.

    Quick rule of thumb. Cost (dollars) is an amount. $/hr is a rate (first derivative of the amount). If you see an article claiming something about an amount (cost overrun), but then shows comparisons of a rate, that's a big red flag. Something deceptive may be going on, and you should do some number checking to figure out what the real story is.

    • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

      So basically, the program has cost only 8% more than what they estimated it would cost. They've just been able to keep the drones aloft for a lot fewer hours than expected (cost of pilots being traded off for cost of maintenance crew). The reporter, trying to exaggerate things to make his story sound bigger than it really is, then converted that overall cost into cost per flight hour and compared on that basis since it showed the biggest cost overrun.

      Quick rule of thumb. Cost (dollars) is an amount. $/hr is

  • by Jodka ( 520060 ) on Tuesday December 22, 2015 @02:45PM (#51166893)

    A friend who is an amateur pilot pointed this out to me a few years ago: There is a huge surplus of cheap pilot labor because passenger airline pilot jobs require [wikipedia.org] a minimum of 1,200 hours of flight time for certification. All of those would-be passenger airline pilots are trying to accumulate that much flying time on someone else's dime, meaning any flying job where the pilot does not pay for his own aircraft, maintenance and fuel.

    Military drones are super expensive and have different requirements than are needed for border patrol, requirements such as long loiter times, capability for long-range missions, extreme stealth to evade sophisticated radar , offensive capabilities, high fuel efficiency, etc. Any conventional aircraft would be just fine for the job of border patrol. If DHS hired pilots to fly conventional aircraft retrofitted with cameras instead of purchasing and maintaining state-of-the art military drones they would save an enormous amount, get far greater coverage, and help out all those pilots looking for flight hours.

       

    • I don't see why you wouldn't want long loiter times and high fuel efficiency in a border-patrol drone. That said, I agree a Reaper is overkill. 300 mph, 1100 mile range, $17,000,000 each.

      Seventeen. Million. Dollars. That. Is. Insane. There are companies producing large civilian drones that cost orders of magnitude less.

      A drone should cost much less than a piloted aircraft. Since it doesn't have to carry a pilot, in can be much smaller and lighter. Fuel permitting, it can stay aloft longer, as you c
  • How long until mexcian drug cartells manage to capture a drone and repurpose it for their own drug delivery. Like in the movie Intersteallar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
    Who used delivery drones first? Amazon? UPS? No, it's the drug dealers :-)

  • ...demand the money back from the ones in charge or let the ones in charge go and cut funding to DHS by that amount.

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