Deployments of various sensor and communications systems that make up the Arizona Technology Plan for border security in that state will be complete by the end FY ’19, says the head of acquisition for Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Most of the technology will be in place in the relevant areas of responsibility (AOR) by the end of FY ’17 except for two AORs on an Indian nation where Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT) systems aren’t expected to be up and running until the end of FY ’19, Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition (OTIA), tells the House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee.

By the end of this year the last AOR of five for camera-mounted tower systems called the Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) will be up in Yuma, Borkowski says. The IFT system is already operating in the Nogales sector in Arizona and another system is being installed and is expected to be operating in the Douglas AOR this year. Plans are underway to begin installing the IFT system in Sonoita this summer with a completion date next summer, he says.

The camera and radar equipped IFT systems are being supplied by a Texas-based unit of Israel’s Elbit Systems [ESLT]. General Dynamics [GD] supplies the RVSS.

Borkowski also says that the Mobile Surveillance Capability (MSC), which consists of long-range radars and cameras on Border Patrol vehicles, is completely deployed in Arizona with plans now for deployments outside of the state. He says this contract was also awarded below cost estimates and “performed on cost.”

Telephonics, a division of Griffon Corp. [GFF], supplies the MSC.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), chairman of the subcommittee, at the outset of the hearing criticizes the performance of Borkowski’s office, saying that while the IFT program is “working well and on budget,” as a whole “I do not believe that CBP’s Office of Technology and Acquisition has delivered.”

Borkowski acknowledged that a number of programs have struggled, particularly with regard to schedule, which he attributed to cultural and structural issues. He later said that the culture for technology procurement is “risk averse” and that the “community” needs to grapple with what is the right level of risk tolerance.

“The procurement system is very frustrating to all of us,” Borkowski said.

However, he says, once contracts have been awarded, performance “has been relatively good.” He notes that IFT was awarded at a 75 percent cost savings versus the original estimate and is performing consistent with that level and “has performed pretty well against its schedule.”

The RVSS contract was awarded at a lower than estimated cost and “is clicking along” with its schedule and performing well on cost.

While failing on schedule before contracts have been awarded, once contracts have been awarded, Borkowski says CBP is doing well regarding cost, schedule and performance.

“I think we’ve made some progress,” Borkowski says. “Am I completely satisfied? No. We do have some work to do in terms of, ‘How do we handle this very, very slow acquisition process?’”

Onward to Texas

With Arizona “well underway compared to the baseline,” Texas is the next front for deploying border security technologies, Borkowski says.

Currently CBP is operating six tactical aerostats on South Texas border for ground and aerial surveillance. Borkowski says the aerostat system includes 17 towers equipped with cameras and potentially radars. The aerostats are Defense Department systems that are being reused by CBP for border security.

The deployment of this technology to Texas wouldn’t have happened until 2018 or 2019 without savings generated under the Arizona technology deployments and the fact that working with the DoD helps speed deliveries, Borkowski says.

Borkowski says the long-term plan for Texas is deploying the RVSS and Mobile Video Surveillance Systems (MVSS), which will be supplied by the Tactical Micro unit of Secure Technology Company. The award to Tactical Micro was made last October and after an unsuccessful protest Borkowski says the first four units are expected to be delivered for testing later this year.

The MVSS system consists of day and night camera systems fitted on telescopic poles mounted on Border Patrol 4 x 4 vehicles. Borkowski says the contract with Tactical Micro is for 127 MVSS to be delivered over the next two years once testing is complete.

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), the ranking member on the subcommittee, says that the planned unit buy for the MVSS is 297 systems, with a large number expected to be deployed in the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector in Texas.

Borkowski also says that a challenge in Texas for deploying technology is environmental land clearance as well as land acquisitions. These are 18 to 24 month problems, he says.

UAS Discussion

Randolph Alles, executive Assistant Commissioner for Air and Marine within CBP, tells the panel that his agency is working with General Atomics on an automatic takeoff and landing capability for the Predator Unmanned Aircraft Systems CBP operates out of Corpus Christi, Texas, for border security missions. In all CBP operates nine General Atomics-built Predators for border and maritime security missions.

The Predators have a 20 percent higher flight cancellation rate than manned aircraft in bad weather, Alles says. He also says CBP is looking to move the Predators based in Corpus Christi to other airfields in Texas that are better for operating from during the winter.

Despite ongoing challenges with weather as well as airspace concerns that also limit flights, CBP increased UAS flight hours by 19 percent to 5,502 hours in FY ’15 over FY ’14, the Senate Appropriations Committee says in its report accompanying its version of the FY ’17 DHS spending bill. The committee provides a $17.3 million increase to CBP’s request to support the UAS fleet in FY ’17.

CBP and the Border Patrol have an operational requirements document for tactical UAS for use by Border Patrol agents and believe this technology needs “to get into the hands of” these agents, Ronald Vitello, acting chief of the Border Patrol, tells the panel. Vitello says the Border Patrol is working with CBP’s acquisition office on the resources available for tactical UAS and how they would be deployed.

The agency is working with the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology branch to narrow the potential platforms that would be available and is working with the Federal Aviation Administration on a memorandum of understanding to iron out airspace deconfliction issues, Vitello says.

There are demands from agents in the field to be able to see the sensor data that is being collected at higher command levels, Borkowski says. The capability to distribute this data doesn’t exist yet due to a lack of infrastructure, he says. CBP is pilot testing some of this technology “but I still have to figure out how to get the pipe to send it,” Borkowski adds.

Vitello says that the sensor data is geo-referenced and those exact locations of target tracks are provided to agents on the ground.

In its markup in late May of the FY ’17 DHS spending bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommends adding $20 million to CBP’s request for the border security technology, fencing and infrastructure account. The $349.2 million recommendation fully funds the agency’s technology request and the additional funding is for fencing and infrastructure maintenance.