Miss. Senator Says It Would Take CBP 75 Years to Replace Fleet Under Biden Budget Trajectory

032930 DHS Appropriations
VIDEO:  Senator Hyde-Smith Derides Customs & Border Protection Helicopter Procurement Budget Request.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, on Thursday demanded answers on why President Biden’s budget request underfunds the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) mission to replace its outdated Light Enforcement Helicopter (LEH) fleet.

At a hearing to review the FY2024 budget request for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Hyde-Smith asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to explain why the budget requests only $8.0 million—enough to procure a single helicopter—for the CBP transition to the more technologically-advanced LEH within the Light Enforcement Platform (LEP) program.  LEH helicopters are produced at the Airbus facility in Columbus.

“For the last 35 years, Customs and Border Patrol has flown a fleet of about 100 light enforcement helicopters, which happened to be manufactured in Mississippi. Very good, very proud of the support Mississippi has given the border secure missions,” said Hyde-Smith, who helped secure funding last year to stand up the LEP program.

“Your FY24 budget request significantly underfunds that program,” the Senator said.  “At the rate of the FY '24 request, it will take 75 years for those Border Patrol agents to receive and to replace their current fleet.  So, we didn't get an answer last year, but can we get an answer today of why that was not appropriately funded?”

Mayorkas apologized for not responding to a FY2023 Hyde-Smith inquiry regarding the LEP program, but pledged to provide answers soon.

“I am quite candidly not sure whether that funding is in the base budget or whether it's in the $4.7 billion Border Contingency Fund to which the chairman referenced in his opening remarks,” Mayorkas said.  “I will both circle back on that precise question and I will be sure to respond to your inquiry thoroughly and very quickly since we're long overdue. I apologize for that.”

Hyde-Smith, who visited the southern border in January, stressed the fact that Border Patrol agents need a new fleet of modern helicopters to improve border surveillance and law enforcement capabilities amid a worsening border crisis.  The aircraft are used in missions involving illegal border incursions, search and arrest warrants missions, and high-risk area patrols.

“When we talk to the Border Patrol agents and say, ‘Do you need this,’ they said, ‘Oh my God, do we need these,’ because they have such a task in front of them,” Hyde-Smith said.

In its budget justification material, the CBP explains that the LEP program is “a new acquisition program to replace and consolidate the LEH program and other light enforcement aircraft under a single program of record.  These aircraft primarily conduct Tactical Relocation, Tactical Response, and Investigative Surveillance missions, but can also support disaster relief/response, special security events, and other missions as needed.”