• 228,818 individuals were apprehended at the border between October and May
  • The tower system is said to be more effective and cheaper than the physical wall President Trump favors
  • The towers are produced by Anduril Industries, which hopes to become a major defense contractor

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has signed a five-year contract for as many as 200 solar-powered surveillance towers that use radar, algorithms and cameras to monitor the border with Mexico in remote locations – a system favored by Democrats who have balked at providing funds for President Trump’s border wall.

CBP announced the system on Thursday, calling it “perfectly suited for remote rural locations.” The towers are powered by “100% renewable energy” and provide surveillance 24 hours a day, freeing up agents to concentrate on interdiction. The towers can be set up in two hours and reportedly can distinguish between human and animal 97% of the time.

CPB said last month it had apprehended 228,818 individuals had been apprehended along the southwest border between October and May. In fiscal 2019, 851,508 individuals were apprehended.

The system has been under testing since early 2018, CPB said, starting with four sites in the San Diego area. Subsequently, 56 additional towers were procured with plans to deploy 140 more by October 2021 and 200 by 2022.

“These towers give agents in the field a significant leg up against the criminal networks that facilitate illegal cross-border activity,” Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said in the press release. “The more our agents know about what they encounter in the field, the more safely and effectively they can respond.”

The towers are produced by Anduril Industries and can be set up in mountainous areas where construction of a physical wall is not possible.

Chad Wolf, acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, sought $2 billion for an 82-mile “border wall system,” including $28 million for about 30 moveable towers during budget hearings earlier this year. The technology replaces infrared sensors, outdated mapping systems, video displays, recorders and data links. Wolf told lawmakers the towers are “more effective than a wall.”

Democrats have long promoted smart technology as an alternative to Trumps demands for a concrete-and-steel wall as cheaper and more effective. The president has ridiculed use of technology rather than a wall, saying last month: “What are you going to do? Take pictures of everyone flowing across?”

Ranchers and environmentalists opposed construction of a physical wall along the border because of damage to the ecosystem and archaeological sites, favoring the electronic approach.

“It’s already working where it’s in place,” William McDonald, a fifth-generation rancher in southern Arizona, told the Washington Post. “It has a low impact on the environment and wildlife movement. It targets illegal crossers, period.”

The Post reported the contract is worth several hundred million dollars.

Anduril chief revenue officer Matthew Steckman told the Post the company is poised to benefit no matter who wins the presidential election. The towers can be used to augment Trump’s wall or be deployed as a virtual wall.

“No matter if talking to a Democrat or a Republican, they agree that this type of system is needed,” Steckman said.

Anduril seeks to become a major player in deploying its Lattice artificial intelligence for defense purposes. It has developed a drone system that can provide data to Lattice but does not plan to use it for the CPB contract.