Months after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) opted not to continue further deployments of Boeing‘s [BA] fixed towers equipped with surveillance sensors along the southwest border, the company is gearing up for a new competition to deploy basically the same technology but in more select areas along the nation’s border with Mexico.
In January, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ended the networked portion of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), which was largely focused on deploying the fixed tower systems to the southwest border, in favor of an approach that offers more technology options to help boost border security (TR2, Jan. 19).
DHS canceled the SBInet effort saying it wasn’t viable versus the original proposal or cost-effective. Still, the Border Patrol, which operates the fixed towers and other sensor systems, has praised the situational awareness the system gives its agents and DHS has said the system initially helped increase apprehensions of illegal migrants before forcing them to alter their migration routes into the U.S.
The new approach includes the fixed towers, which are equipped with electro-optic and infrared cameras and ground surveillance radars, related communications technology and a security management platform that creates a common operating picture, or COP, at a Border Patrol station. Customs and Border Protection has indicated that the new approach will also likely emphasize open systems, that is the ability of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) sensors already developed by various vendors to be integrated relatively easily so that the government pays for purchasing, testing and deployment of a solution but not its development.
Shortly after SBInet was canceled, DHS asked industry for its ideas related to Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) to be deployed in certain areas of the southwest border with “essentially the Block I requirements that we had for our Ajo and Tucson deployments,” Tim Peters, vice president of Global Security Systems within Boeing’s Network and Space Systems segment, tells TR2. The only two deployments of SBInet are called Ajo-1 and Tucson-1, both of which are operational with the Border Patrol along 53 miles of border in Arizona.
Now Boeing is building on its lessons learned in SBInet and making some additional investments as it targets a competition for IFT systems expected to begin later this year with a Request for Proposals (RFP).
“A lesson that we learned on SBInet in the Ajo and Tucson deployments is the degree of difficulty in integrating COTS applications in a hostile environment,” Peters says. “It’s more complex than I think people give it credit. And we learned with our radar suppliers. We learned with our [network] video recorder suppliers. Those are all commercial suppliers. When a vendor makes a change to a chipset or makes a change to a piece of firmware, that can cause you a lot of problems down stream. As an integrator, you really have to be on top of what’s happening in your supply [chain] at lower levels.”
Peters also says that Boeing has made additional investments in the COP and to provide additional features that Border Patrol agents want for the system such as how the data is presented.
These changes create integration problems that have to be solved, Peters says. And in the Ajo and Tucson deployments Boeing has worked through those integration issues and “it’s a very capable system that we think can also be replicated in a very cost effective manner,” he says.
In the Ajo and Tucson deployments Boeing uses Telephonics ARSS 1 ground surveillance radar, and infrared radar provided by Flir Corp. [FLIR] and an electro-optic camera provided by Hitachi. The COP was developed by Boeing. Telephonics is a division of Griffon Corp. [GFF].
Peters says that if the government selects different sensors to be hung on the IFTs, Boeing would have to work through the integration issues but has already created the interfaces for its COP so that it can work these “integration issues in a timely manner.”
When it canceled SBInet, DHS decided to move forward with a more layered and flexible approach to border security technology. Already CBP has awarded contracts to Flir and Telephonics to deliver Mobile Surveillance Systems, essentially towers with telescoping poles equipped with cameras and radar that are operated onsite by the Border Patrol and can be towed to new locations as needed.
In addition, CBP is also acquiring tactical equipment such as thermal imaging cameras and better radio systems. The agency is also planning to purchase Remote Video Surveillance Systems (RVSS), essentially camera systems on poles although they might also be mounted on buildings and other structures.
Like the IFT, Boeing has experience with the RVSS, having deployed 16 of them to two northern border sectors for CBP as part of SBInet. In these cases, both the electro-optic day cameras and infrared night cameras were supplied by L-3 Communications‘ [LLL] Cincinnati Electronics unit and integrated by Boeing.
Boeing also plans to compete for the RVSS procurement along the southwest border, Peters says.
The RVSS are essentially legacy systems, many of which have been operating on the southwest border for years. In some instances, the new acquisition effort will replace existing RVSS and in others refurbish them. An RFP for the RVSS is expected this fall with a contract award later this year or early next year.