Strategizing Multi-Sector Domain Awareness

Mr. Troy Meridith
National Air Security Operations Center-San Angelo
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

From S&B and CST/CBRNE, Fall 2019 Issue

Director Meridith has over 33 years of combined military and federal law enforcement experience, beginning with his service in the U.S. Air Force as a C-141 and C-5 aircraft flight engineer. He retired as a reserve Chief Master Sergeant with over 26 years of service in 2011.

Director Meridith has served in multiple leadership positions at AMO, both in the field and at Headquarters. His previous experience as the Director at National Air Security Operation Center – Sierra Vista (NASOC–SV) affords him an intimate understanding of the centers’ operations and the demands of his new position.

Director Meridith entered civil service in 1995 as a Border Patrol Agent with U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) stationed in Carrizo Springs, Texas. In 2003, he transferred to Laredo, Texas, where he successfully completed the pilot trainee program and became a USBP pilot. He transitioned to AMO as an Air Interdiction Agent (AIA) in 2005 and was assigned to the Laredo Air Branch. Two years later, he was promoted to Supervisory Air Interdiction Agent (SAIA).

While at Laredo, he served as the Acting Deputy Director of Training, Safety, and Standards at AMO Headquarters. In this concurrent role, he was responsible for conducting aviation program evaluations, participating in the formulation and implementation of new aviation policies and activities, and assisting with long-range strategic planning. In June 2010, he was selected as the Director, Air Operations, at the Laredo Air Branch, responsible for overall branch management, operations, safety, training, and aircraft maintenance. In 2012, he was appointed as the Acting Director, South Texas Campaign, providing strategic oversight for all AMO assets and personnel within the South Texas Corridor. In June 2014, he was selected as the Deputy Director of NASOC–Corpus Christi and has served as Director NASOC-SV since March 2017.

Director Meridith is a command pilot with more than 3,800 hours in a variety of aircraft including the MQ-9 UAS. He holds fixed and rotary-wing commercial certificates and a flight engineer turbojet rating.

Security & Border had the chance to speak with Troy Meridith, Director, NASOC-San Angelo, USCBP, regarding efforts to provide enhanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability to expand situational awareness reach for U.S. border assets to better protect infrastructure.

S&B: Provide some overview as to your area of responsibility (AOR) and the responsibilities that come with that AOR.

Meridith: National Air Security Operations Center-San Angelo (NASOC-SA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), area of responsibility includes the U.S.-Mexico border from Brownsville to El Paso, TX, and the Gulf of Mexico maritime approaches. Our primary missions are to provide strategic, high-altitude border surveillance and enhance federal, state, local, and tribal land and maritime domain awareness. We accomplish this mission through the dedicated efforts of a team of 34 federal and contract support personnel and the employment of the MQ-9 Predator B UAS (land domain awareness missions) and the MQ-9 Guardian UAS (maritime domain awareness missions). We also support disaster response, search and rescue, law enforcement investigation, and National Security Special Event missions.

In October 2018, NASOC-SA transitioned from a UAS deployment site to a permanent location. I couldn’t be prouder of the NASOC-SA staff and the amazing work they’ve accomplished in a very short time. These aviation and aviation support professionals have been drawn to the uniqueness which comes with operating UAS technology and a desire to be an integral part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) border security mission.

S&B: In looking at UAS application to present, what are some critical target areas that unmanned assets have/and continue to work in helping CBP gain any advantages possible?

Meridith: First, I want to point out that the term “unmanned” aircraft system is a misconception. A typical NASOC-SA UAS mission is staffed with multiple crew members, radar operators, command staff and maintenance personnel. UAS missions flown from NASOC-SA normally last from 13 to 18 hours, but can extend longer if necessary. Support for these missions is staff intensive and requires multiple crew rotations.

NASOC-SA’s UAS crews detect, locate and monitor border activity overland and on the water. With our high-altitude surveillance platforms we collect and pass surveillance information, primarily suspected illegal border activity, to tactical commanders who are then able to deploy aircraft, vessels and ground forces to investigate and, if necessary, interdict illicit activity.

An example of a critical CBP focus area is the South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley; one of the highest volume human and narcotics smuggling corridors in Texas. NASOC-SA routinely assigns MQ-9 Predator B UAS to patrol the region and to provide tactical commanders with the strategic domain awareness they need to effectively shift their air and ground assets to most efficiently meet the border security threat.

AMO does not only operate the UAS for border security functions. We also coordinate with other Federal agencies to conduct damage assessments during natural disasters, and conduct surveillance during law enforcement activities in coordination with other federal, state, local and tribal entities.

S&B: In terms of Land Domain Awareness, what are some CBP focus objectives seeing achievement and needing work?

Meridith: One of our most successful recent advancements in land domain awareness is the use of the MQ-9 outfitted with the Vehicle Dismount Exploitation Radar (VADER). We deploy these assets on long range, high endurance land border surveillance missions to provide our ground and aviation partners with single and multiple-target detection. VADER operators detect, track, and communicate location of persons and vehicles suspected of engaging in illegal activity to responding air and ground forces.

S&B: From a maritime perspective, what type of threat awareness do you see as critical to current day national security?

Meridith: Monitoring maritime security threats approaching from the Gulf of Mexico presents NASOC-SA with a unique set of challenges primarily due to the expanse of the gulf waters and misperceived open corridor for illegal entry into the United States. To meet these border security threats and achieve maritime domain awareness, we utilize the MQ-9 Guardian UAS equipped with the SeaVue maritime radar. Our crews provide CBP’s maritime partners with a strategic look at the Gulf and a focus on suspected illegal activity at sea. To further close the maritime approaches to illicit activity and illegal fishing, NASOC-SA, exchanges maritime domain awareness information with the U.S. Coast Guard and other regional intelligence sources through the Corpus Christi Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCOM). The ReCOM is a diversified group of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies who meet to increase air and maritime asset coordination. Given the expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, this partnership affords NASOC-SA Guardian crews better opportunities to patrol in the right place at the right time.

S&B: As joint training and partnering seem indispensable to achieving current day readiness levels, talk about any program efforts that CBP is undertaking to maximize personnel preparedness through capabilities availability.

Meridith: Joint training and partnering is a key NASOC-SA line of effort in advancement of land and maritime readiness, preparedness and effectiveness. To advance this effort, CBP Air and Marine Operations (AMO) National Air Security Operations (NASO) created the UAS program’s Joint Program Office (JPO) in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). The JPO is located at NASOC-SA and is designed to maximize UAS capability by enlisting crew members and subject matter experts from multiple Department of Homeland Security and CBP components.

Members attached to the JPO come from agencies such as USCG, U.S. Border Patrol (USBP), and AMO’s part-time UAS qualified crew members and bring their unique expertise in land and/or maritime domain awareness law enforcement thereby enhancing UAS border security capability. For example, USCG crew members bring their experience in maritime search and rescue, contraband interdiction and countering of illegal fishing to our maritime domain awareness mission and USBP personnel bring their knowledge of the land border and land security issues to our land domain awareness missions. All JPO staff are trained as either pilots, sensor operators or radar operators under NASO’s MQ-9 UAS training program in Grand Forks, ND. A typical NASOC-SA crew can be comprised of members from multiple JPO components who fly and operate together gaining experience in tactics, techniques and procedures from different perspectives.

S&B: Feel free to speak to any other goals or challenges not already mentioned.

Meridith: UAS technology is relatively new and can be challenging as changes take place with the same regularity as smartphone upgrades. Rapid-fire technological changes can, if not properly managed, interfere with the safety of law enforcement aviation operations. A primary objective as we build our UAS community is promoting a positive aviation safety culture. I am committed to applying safe aviation methodology to sound land and maritime law enforcement tactics, techniques and procedures to effectively and safely ensure national border security objectives.