The Army is preparing to conduct a round of end-to-end customer testing of its upgraded biometric database after a delay to fix problems encountered in an earlier round of user testing last summer.

Following the testing in August of the latest version of the biometric repository, the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) 1.2, the Army Product Manager for the Biometrics Enabling Capability (BEC) implemented fixes to the shortfalls identified by the users. Those shortfalls include connectivity issues between the users and the database. The 1.2 version of ABIS was supposed to transition to the BEC Increment 0 shortly after the August testing.

U.S. Army Soldier capturing facial photos with a Handheld Interagency Identification Equpment device at checkpoint in Afghanistan. HIIDE is made by Safran. Photo: Biometrics Identity Management Agency
Facial photos being captured with a Handheld Interagency Identification Equpment device at checkpoint in Afghanistan. HIIDE is made by Safran. Photo: Biometrics Identity Management Agency

The Army did go live briefly with the upgraded ABIS capability but then returned to using the 1.0 version while the various fixes were implemented (Defense Daily, Sept. 23, 2013).

Once the forthcoming end-to-end customer testing is successfully completed, the BEC Product Manager plans to seek a full deployment decision (FDD), which would baseline the capability as an acquisition program of record. The Army had planned to seek an FDD decision in FY ’14 but it’s unclear at the moment whether the delays will push that milestone into FY ’15 (Defense Daily, Aug. 1, 2013).

ABIS 1.2 is expected to house 18 million biometric records versus the current 10 million capacity and double the daily transaction capability to 30,000 searches.

Eventually, the Army plans to transition the initial BEC Increment to BEC Increment 1, which would mean an even larger database, 50 million records up to 100 million, more daily transactions, and improved data exchange with other federal agencies such as the FBI and Department of Homeland Security and international partners.

Northrop Grumman [NOC] is the current prime contractor supporting and upgrading the ABIS system. The Army is planning to recompete the program for BEC Increment 1 with a notional schedule presented last July showing release of a Request for Proposals in the fourth quarter of FY ’14 for the engineering and manufacturing development phase with an award expected in the third quarter of FY ’15 and initial operating capability in FY ’17. As with the forthcoming customer tests, the timelines for any BEC 1 acquisition are unclear as discussions continue.

The ABIS system was developed as a quick reaction capability, helping warfighters peel away the anonymity of terrorists and insurgents in an era of asymmetric warfare. Despite the fact that the existing system is essentially at capacity, it maintained an operational availability greater than 99 percent in FY ’13 and matched more than 516,000 identities.

Throughout the involvement of United States military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the importance of identity dominance grew. Last fall, John Boyd, the director of Defense Biometrics & Forensics within the Defense Department, said at a conference that the concept of identity alone is rising in importance and may even find a place in the next Quadrennial Defense Review (Defense Daily, Sept. 19, 2013). However, despite the growing importance of identity for various DoD missions, it’s unclear going forward how the drawdown in U.S. forces from overseas war theaters and the consequent loss of war-related funding that helped drive biometric-related acquisitions and developments will play out.