SAN ANTONIO—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is working to wrap up new solicitations for a consolidated border security tower program that will be followed by another request for bids for a command-and-control platform that will tie new, and legacy, sensor systems together, the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol said on Tuesday.
A Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Consolidated Tower & Surveillance Equipment (CTSE) program was expected during the first quarter of 2022, which ends this week, but continues to be ironed out. Industry officials here at the annual Border Security Expo are eyeing the solicitation to see what the Border Patrol’s needs are for a new tranche of surveillance systems that will be used to monitor and detect activity along the nation’s borders between the ports of entry.
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz told attendees at the conference that he’s looking to “capitalize on both the fusion of technology, the fusion of information, and making sure that those front-line agents have the resources that they need.”
Ortiz expects by the end of this week the Border Patrol will have encountered more than 1 million migrants illegally trying to enter the U.S., mostly along the nation’s southwest border, since the start of the federal fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2021. Current and former Border Patrol and Department of Homeland Security officials here said the numbers are “overwhelming.”
In fiscal year 2021, the Border Patrol apprehended nearly 1.7 million illegal migrants. At the current rate of encounters, the agency will top that number by more than 16 percent in FY ’22, Robert Bonner, the fist commissioner of CBP during the administration of George W. Bush, told attendees.
The Border Patrol currently operates three primary fixed or relocatable sensor tower systems, including the newer Autonomous Sensor Towers provided by Anduril Industries, the Integrated Fixed Towers deployed by Elbit Systems of America, and the Remote Video Surveillance Systems supplied by General Dynamics [GD]. The tower systems have a mix of sensors including radar and electro-optic and infrared cameras and operate at different heights and ranges to meet different mission needs depending on where they are installed.
The Border Patrol also operates a number of mobile sensor systems that are typically deployed on large pickup trucks.
Sean McGoffin, chief of the Border Patrol’s Big Bend Sector, which covers 517 miles of river front along the Rio Grande River in Texas, told reporters at the expo that the current sensor systems give his agents situational awareness that “gives us an idea of what threats we’re looking at and what’s going on in our AOR (area of responsibility), and then we can prioritize that and be more efficient and effective in our processes and how we deploy our manpower and what we do to interdict that.”
For the CTSE effort, based on earlier draft statements by CBP, which is the parent organization to the Border Patrol, industry officials are expecting small, medium and large variants of tower systems and related sensor packages. CBP previously said that it expects to select one or more vendors for the program.
A second RFP expected to be released later year is for a common operating picture that ties together on one user interface the data and imagery from the various border security sensor systems. Ortiz said during briefing to media later in the day that “what we’re having a conversation about is command and control, intelligence and information” and integrating the sensor data from the legacy and future systems “and [being] able to centralize that information and then get it right back out to the front-line agents that are out on patrol.”
Once the RFPs come out, the “hope” is to then as quickly as possible to award contracts, he said.
Industry officials expect that the forthcoming RFP for the COP, and possibly even the sensor systems procured under the CTSE effort, will require artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities that autonomously sort out items of interest to alert operators and dismiss innocuous activity such as that of animals. Anduril’s AST systems, combined with the company’s LATTICE command and control (C2) platform, already offers AI/ML benefits to the Border Patrol.
Elbit’s Integrated Fixed Towers and the company’s TORCH C2 platform also includes AI/ML features.
Ortiz also said that to get more information out to his agents in the field, he wants them all to be equipped with the ATAK system, which is the Android Team Awareness Kitt app on a cell phone that provides agents the ability to have situational awareness within an operating area in the palm of their hands.
“Almost every migrant we encounter, they have a mobile device,” Ortiz said. “But I haven’t been able to put a mobile device in every Border Patrol agent’s hands. But now, with the budget we have, I’m going to be able to do that.”
ATAK will mean agents will be safer, more efficient and be able to respond more quickly to the migrant activity along the border every day, he said.