A representative of Canon USA checks out a weapon at Border Security Expo.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

A representative of Canon USA checks out a weapon at Border Security Expo.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

Guns, Drones, and Night Vision: Where Trump’s Border Patrol Goes Shopping

Vendors were pitching everything from assault rifles to battery-operated drones at Border Security Expo in San Antonio.

For companies selling surveillance drones, night-vision cameras, and high-fidelity communications equipment, the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency appear to offer a big-league opportunity. These are the tools of the border-security trade, and at the industry’s annual trade show this month, there was good reason to expect a dramatic increase in sales.

First, Trump campaigned on the promise to spend billions of dollars erecting a concrete wall along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. After taking office, the new president proposed a federal budget that would cut spending on at least 80 programs—everything from childhood literacy to subsidies helping low-income households pay for heat—to increase funding for defense agencies.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal requests $44 billion for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a 6.8 percent increase from the previous year. That includes $3 billion in additional funding for Customs and Border Protection, according to reports.

Even before that boost in government spending reaches the private sector, the agency’s current budget had plenty of prizes to tempt security contractors. The 2017 budget proposal for Customs and Border Protection, put forth by Obama appointee Jeh Johnson, called for $14 billion in funding, including (PDF) $64 million for vehicles, $51 million to acquire a pair of enforcement aircraft, and $12 million for Tasers, M4 rifles, and pistol-mounted night sights to help agents aim in the dark.

And so the vendors came to San Antonio in April for Border Security Expo, an annual trade show attended by companies hoping to sell the government all-terrain vehicles, facial-recognition software, and secure wireless networks.

Some of the companies have sold equipment to CBP in the past. Flir Systems, based in Wilsonville, Ore., brought a rugged all-terrain vehicle equipped with thermal imaging to San Antonio. Elbit Systems of America, a Fort Worth-based subsidiary of an Israeli defense contractor, exhibited communications and surveillance technology, including a small, battery-powered drone.

Additional vendors have previously sold to other federal agencies and were hoping that the new focus on border security would create new chances. The goods and services on offer also included high-tech guard towers, tactical command centers equipped with beds for long-term assignments, and, of course, firearms. The final day of the three-day exhibition was held at a local firing range.

Paul Beeson, center right, director of Homeland Security’s Joint Task Force–West in San Antonio, checks out a weapon at the expo.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

The Border Patrol is hiring. There are nine steps in the process, the last a polygraph test that many recruits fail. U.S. Border Patrol Chief Ronald Vitiello (not pictured) spoke to expo attendees about making changes to the polygraph test. Here, agents have a booth to give out information about hiring.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

Scott Pearson of Vigilant Solutions in Livermore, Calif., gives a demonstration of facial-recognition software.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

Robert Gordon, center in suit, gives a tour of a mobile command center made by Mack Defense. The vehicle could be used when Border Patrol agents need to spend days in areas far from accommodations. It isn’t yet being used by the Border Patrol, but the company hopes it will be.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

U.S. Border Patrol Assistant Chief Michael Hanson, center, tours the mobile command center.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

The booth for Elbit Systems of America LLC, one of the few companies at the expo that had existing contracts with the Border Patrol and/or Homeland Security. Most of the other companies hoped that increased funding for border security might result in new contracts. Elbit’s parent company is based in Israel.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

This is the Elbit Systems PVP Nighthawk camera filming live at the expo. This actual camera is used on the border now.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

 Another surveillance system on display at the expo.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

A new vehicle Flir Systems Inc. is marketing to the Border Patrol called the LTV-X. Gregory Barlow, second from right, a Border Patrol agent in McAllen, Texas, tries it out.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

Thomas Spencer, a Border Patrol agent in Carrizo Springs, Texas, takes part in a shooting competition during the last day of the expo.

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek

At the Border Security Expo Demo Day at the Bandera Gun Club in Bandera, Texas. 

Photographer: Kirsten Luce for Bloomberg Businessweek