A military contractor that makes small drones used to surveil the US-Mexico border.
AeroVironment, Inc. is a military contractor that primarily sells small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS, or drones), as well as small missile systems, to the U.S. military and other government agencies. It is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, and has 1,165 employees. It reported a 2020 revenue of almost $400 million, 34% of which came from selling sUAS and small missile systems to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The company has provided small aerial drones (sUAS) to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which uses them as one component of the "smart" border wall. As of November 2020, Border Patrol had over 135 sUAS.
In 2017, CBP announced that it was testing the capabilities of sUAS, including AeroVironment's Raven and Puma drones, to surveil remote areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. The company trained 25 Border Patrol agents on how to fly its sUAS. In August of 2019, CBP awarded AeroVironment a $5.25 million contract for its Puma system, with an expected delivery by January 2020. In March 2021, CBP stated that its sUAS program led to "roughly 3,500 individuals detected, resulting in more than 2,700 apprehensions, to date this fiscal year."
In a 2018 Privacy Impact Assessment, CBP explained that sUAS "provide [Border Patrol agents] with access to previously inaccessible border areas (due to rugged or difficult terrain)." Unlike manned aircraft or ground patrols, sUAS grant CBP agents access to "persistent, omnipresent, and discreet surveillance capabilities." CBP also stated that its sUAS program can support Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigations of undocumented immigrants by providing video images, photographs, radio frequency emissions, and location data.
A 2018 report by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General found that "CBP has not ensured effective safeguards for information, such as images and video, collected on and transmitted from its UAS." In addition, numerous immigrant justice and civil liberties groups have advocated against the adoption of UAS and other smart wall technologies at the border. Jacinta Gonzales, senior campaign organizer of Mijente, told a Truthout reporter for an article published on February 2, 2021: "What we've seen over and over again is, a lot of these companies, they start to create new technologies for war zones, they bring them to a militarized border, and then they start to use them across the U.S. We then start to see these technologies normalized and brought to local police departments."
Military Drones and Missile Systems
Since 2008, AeroVironment has held over 600 contracts with the Department of Defense, worth around $97 million. According to an the company's product catalog, it "has delivered the vast majority of all unmanned aircraft in the U.S. Department of Defense inventory." Some of those sUAS are intelligence and surveillance drones that can be hand-launched and transported in a car or backpack. The U.S. Army has awarded AeroVironment a $42.9 million contract in 2019 and the Air Force awarded it it a $3 million contract in 2020 for Raven drones. Both contracts are expected to end in 2023. Similarly, the Army has awarded the company multiple contracts for manufacture and services of its Puma drone, most recently contractc from 2020 to 2021 for $1.2 million and $17.4 million, in 2021 for $3.2 million, and from 2020 to 2022 for $8.6 million.
AeroVironment also makes the Switchblade 600, a small, portable, and rapidly deployable missile system. The U.S. Army acquired this system for $122.5 million from 2020 to 2023 and has another contract for logistic services worth $13 million from 2021 to 2022.