A year ago the Army had established notional plans for a new generation of tactical biometric collection devices and a path forward to significantly upgrade to the Defense Department’s authoritative biometrics database once the current system approaches obsolescence in a few years but with resources tightening the service is planning new acquisition strategies around sustaining existing capabilities, according to an Army official.

The Army plans to leverage the investments it has already made in tactical collection devices, turn it into a program of record so that it becomes an enduring capability, and sustain it until “we’re ready to make an investment in a future capability,” Col. Sandy Vann-Olejasz, Project Manager for DoD Biometrics, tells HSR  in a recent telephone interview.

The Army has purchased more than 5,000 Cross Match Technologies-supplied SEEK II handheld multimodal biometric collection devices that its soldiers have used for disconnected operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Army over the years had also purchased thousands of HIIDE IV handheld multimodal collection devices but these systems have reached obsolescence and are being “sun-setted,” and won’t be retained or sustained. Vann-Olejasz says. The HIIDE devices were supplied by Morpho, part of France’s Safran Group.

The service also has deployed more than 1,500 Biometric Automated Toolset (BAT) kits—which typically consist of a ruggedized laptop computer and peripheral devices such as cameras, fingerprint scanners, and in some cases palm print scanners carried in a pelican case—that are typically used at bases to enroll and verify the identities people, such as local personnel. The software for the BAT kits is maintained by Leidos [LDOS] and ManTech International [MANT] supplies the field engineering support.

The software and engineering support contracts for BAT will be combined and the Army hopes to have a Request for Proposal out this fall for a new contract, Vann-Olejasz says.

The original notional acquisition strategy for new tactical devices was built around the Joint Personnel Identification version 2, which was being considered to replace the handheld and BAT systems in portable and mobile configurations (HSR, July 31, 2013). The JPIv2 was being considered for the Army, Navy and Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The Navy and SOCOM have their own programs of record for tactical collection systems.

With the Capabilities Development Document for JPIv2 essentially terminated in favor of sticking with SEEK and BAT, “the acquisition strategy is really focused on a supportability strategy and how we’re going to sustain these in an environment that is not an intensive deployment like Afghanistan but in a more enduring” capability, Vann-Olejasz says.

The goal is to maintain SEEK and BAT systems until FY ’22, with the minimum threshold being at least FY ’19, Vann-Olejasz says. Cross Match has informed the Army that it will end support for the SEEK II in 2018, so part of the sustainment strategy is figuring out how to maintain these systems longer, she says.

As the SEEK and BAT systems are pulled from overseas theaters and brought back to the United States, the Army will make sure the software on these are up to date and eventually plans to redistribute them to units, Vann-Olejasz says. The systems had been deployed on a regional basis but the plan is for them to become organic to operating forces, she says.

Included in the plans for sustaining SEEK and BAT is turning the tactical collection systems into a program of record, which further ensures biometric collection becomes an enduring capability for the Army. The devices have already been successfully proven operationally in theater and now the service needs to demonstrate that they can be sustained so they can be supported as a program of record in future operations and maintenance budgets, Vann-Olejasz says.

The goal is to complete the supportability proofing by the end of FY ’15 to transition the tactical collection systems to a program of record, she says.

ABIS Plans

The Army this week was scheduled to begin independent operating tests of the DoD’s biometrics database, the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), so that it can be transitioned from the current 1.0 version to 1.2. The upgrade successfully went through a round of customer testing during in March, which paved the way for the operational test by the Army Test and Evaluation Command (HSR, July 15).

If all goes well with the ABIS testing, Vann-Olejasz says the hope is for Douglas Wiltsie, the Army’s Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems, to make a deployment decision in November to allow ABIS 1.2 operations to begin.

ABIS 1.2 will allow for more biometric records to be stored and for more searches to be done against the database on a daily basis. Northrop Grumman [NOC] is the prime contractor for ABIS.

The current ABIS system contains about 12 million records, with records typically consisting of one or more biometric modalities. For example, the records consist of up to four types of fingerprint modalities, 10-print and 4-pring rolled finger and 10-print and 4-print flat finger. They also can include face, iris and palm images.

Of the existing records, 94 percent contain 10-print flat finger images and also 94 percent of 4-print flat finger images. Face and iris images are in 86 and 82 percent of the records respectively. Only 5 percent of the records contain palm prints.

Notional plans a year ago called for recompeting the ABIS program within the next year so that new capabilities, including greater storage capacity and transaction throughput, would be ready beginning in FY ’17 when the ABIS 1.2 system is expected to reach obsolescence.

“With requirements and resourcing kind of at a standstill,” the Army has begun to plan for extending the life of ABIS 1.2, which is “the lowest risk strategy” and what the near-term acquisition strategy will revolve around, Vann-Olejasz says. It hasn’t been decided whether there will be a new procurement effort connected with extending the life of ABIS 1.2, she says.

Vann-Olejasz says that extending the life of the system will probably have less to do with expanding capacity to store more records than it will be dealing with the obsolescence in the current system, including the software products. MorphoTrust, also part of the Safran Group, provides the core biometric matching capabilities for ABIS.

In addition to obtaining a deployment decision from Wiltsie, the near-term path forward for ABIS 1.2 includes having the Joint Interoperability Test Command conduct an interoperability assessment of the system’s readiness after it goes live, Vann-Olejasz says.

“This is kind of like the final check,” she says.

By next spring Vann-Olejasz says development and testing of a master recovery system for ABIS 1.2 should be completed. ABIS, which is based in Clarksburg, W. Va., currently doesn’t have a back-up system but ABIS 1.2 will, she says. The back-up system is also being developed by Northrop Grumman and will be based at a separate location than ABIS further north in West Virginia, she says.

The master recovery system for ABIS 1.2 is a key requirement in transitioning the project to a program of record and getting to a full deployment decision, which is expected by no later than the first quarter of FY ’16, Vann-Olejasz says. Everything from the forthcoming initial deployment decision this fall, the JITIC certification, establishment of the back-up system and obtaining a full deployment decision is part of getting ABIS to a program of record, she says.

One of the features of the ABIS system developed by Northrop Grumman after it won a recompete of the contract against original designer and developer Lockheed Martin [LMT] is a fusion capability, which is essentially an algorithm that combines the scores from each of the biometric modalities when they are searched to increase the confidence of a match and limit the number of queries that have to go to an examiner.

Vann-Olejasz says that manual examinations are a cost driver for program operations and add time to a search.

“We want to limit the amount of workload that goes to this process,” she says. “The fusion algorithm has assisted with that.”

Vann-Olejasz also says that improvements to the biometric search algorithms for each modality in general has helped reduce the manual demands. This was a benefit that was seen in the customer testing in March, she says. This will be looked at further in the independent operational test, she adds.