A year ago, the Army had established notional plans for a new generation of tactical biometric collection devices and a path 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 them into programs of record so they become enduring capabilities, and sustain them until “we’re ready to make an investment in a future capability,” Col. Sandy Vann-Olejasz, project manager for DoD Biometrics, told Defense Daily in an Aug. 1 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 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” — they won’t be retained or sustained, Vann-Olejasz said. The HIIDE devices were supplied by Morpho, part of France’s Safran Group.

SEEK II handheld multimodal biometrics collection device. Photo: Cross Match Technologies
SEEK II handheld multimodal biometrics collection device. Photo: Cross Match Technologies

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 of 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 said.

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 (Defense Daily, Aug. 1, 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 said.

The goal is to maintain SEEK and BAT systems until fiscal year 2022, with the minimum threshold being at least FY ’19, Vann-Olejasz said. 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 said.

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 said. The systems had been deployed on a regional basis, but the plan is for them to become organic to operating forces, she said.

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 said.

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 said.

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 (Defense Daily, July 9).

If all goes well with the ABIS testing, Vann-Olejasz said 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.

Notional plans a year ago called for recompeting the ABIS program within the next years 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 “the lowest-risk strategy” and what the near-term acquisition strategy will revolve around, Vann-Olejasz said. It hasn’t been decided whether there will be a new procurement effort connected with extending the life of ABIS 1.2, she said.