Despite the hard border between the US and Mexico, El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, are so intimately intertwined as to almost be one city. They’re across the Rio Grande from one another, but they still feel bizarrely contiguous. Driving along the highway skirting El Paso, the delineation is shocking; at numerous points you can see the ramshackle turquoise houses of Juarez on one side and the strip-malls of El Paso on the other. In fact, the original name of Juarez was El Paso del Norte (which means “The North Pass,” to El Paso’s “The Pass”).
So it’s not that surprising that a Mexican surveillance drone has crashed in El Paso, Texas. It’s strangely telling that the model was an Orbiter UAV manufactured by the Israeli Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd.
It’s as if the thing rolled off its assembly line wanting to be a poster-child of border-patrol militarization and globalization. Plus, the Mexican government originally denied the drone’s Mexican origin:
Federal authorities were investigating Friday the circumstances of a drone that crashed in El Paso, Texas, this week, which U.S. officials said originated in Mexico.
Mexican Attorney General spokeswoman Rocio Torres denied her country’s involvement with the drone Friday, but later in the day, another Mexican official said the drone was being operated by the Ministry of Public Security and was following a target at the time of the mechanical malfunction.
The Mexican official did not know the nature of the surveillance but said “we know they were following a target.” He did not know how the malfunction affected that operation, if at all.
Ricardo Alday, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in the United States, also said the drone belonged to Mexico and was part of an operation in coordination with the U.S. government.
“It was flying on the Mexican side of the border when it had a mechanical malfunction,” Alday said. “It is my understanding both Mexican and U.S. authorities were fully cognizant of what was going on in the area.”
Alday said the drone malfunctioned, entered U.S. airspace and landed in El Paso.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Special Operations Supervisor Ramiro Cordero said a resident called his agency Tuesday evening “about something in front of his property.”
The Orbiter Mini-UAV is an interesting little puppy. The manufacturer’s website says:
The system presents the ultimate solution for Over The Hill reconnaissance missions, Low Intensity Conflicts and Urban warfare operations as well as any close range ISR mission.
In a military context “ISR,” by the way, is “Information, Surveillance and Reconnaisance.” The Orbiter has a “brushless electric engine,” can be handled by a single operator, and, best of all, operates silently. The operational ceiling is listed as 2,000 feet AGL (above ground level) but as 18,000 feet ASL (above sea level), which I can only assume is a regulatory matter. The Orbiter Mini-UAV has a stall speed of about 30 knots and maxes out at 70 knots. It runs for about 3-4 hours.
The manufacturer has a fascinating brochure, or you can groove to the spacey-trippy soundtrack of this promotional video from the manufacturer’s website, not to mention the Alien Battle Call at the beginning and end.