Taking a page out of the Coast Guard’s playbook, Customs and Border Protection is considering acquiring contractor-owned and operated aircraft services for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

The Coast Guard currently contracts with Boeing’s [BA] Insitu business unit for the company to operate its ScanEagle small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) aboard the service’s growing fleet of high-endurance National Security Cutters. The ScanEagles are used for a range of ISR missions. The $117 million contract to Insitu was awarded last year.

CBP on March 26 issued a Request for Information (RFI) for contractor-owned, contractor-operated manned/unmanned aircraft services in support of law enforcement operations conducted by the agency’s Office of Air and Marine Operations.

The RFI says it expects it will eventually award contracts worth up to $250 million in total over five years to two contractors for the services.

A General Atomics Predator unmanned aircraft system. CBP currently operates a number of Predator drones for border and maritime security missions. Photo: General Atomics

Under the contractor provide services, CBP wants “near-continuous” ISR operations, defining this requirement as 24 hours per day for five straight days “over the designated operation area.” Overall, the agency is seeking 6,000 flight hours annually.

CBP also expects the contractor to provide related technology and sensors and transmit data and imagery in real-time to the agency in a specified format.

Some of the operations requirements are specific and others less so. CBP says it wants “long-range, persistent remote sensing” ISR, the use of active and passive sensors for “flexile reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, flexibility and versatility in configuring the system, transit speed of 240 knots and loiter speed of 120 knots, and the ability to operate up to 25,000 feet.

In the RFI, CBP doesn’t say what its next steps in a potential procurement will be. At the annual Border Security Expo this week in San Antonio, Texas, CBP officials said they are looking for new ways of doing business. Kelly Good, deputy executive director for the Border Patrol’s Program Management Office, said the Border Patrol wants to acquire capabilities more rapidly using non-traditional methods to adapt to changing threats (Defense Daily, March 27).

Good told attendees not to expect a Request for Proposals all the time and that through RFIs, industry engagement, and vendors being on existing contracting vehicles such as those managed by the General Services Administration (GSA) and other federal agencies, companies are in a position to understand the solutions that the Border Patrol needs and his agency is in a position to acquire systems that it can test and evaluate and then determine if it wants to buy more of them to deploy.

The Border Patrol has been acquiring sUAS using Defense Logistics Agency contracting vehicles without conducting a formal acquisition, Good said. CBP’s Air and Marine division operates a small fleet of General Atomics-built Predator drones that can operate up to 50,000-feet and stay aloft for nearly a full day.

Diane Sahakian, assistant commissioner for the Office of Acquisition at CBP, said that for years there were limitations at the Department of Homeland Security on the kinds of contract vehicles the department’s components could use. That was also limiting for industry, she said.

Now that components have access to “best in class” contracts, she said “I think you’ll see CBP using [contracting] vehicles from other organizations.” She also told vendors if they aren’t on the GSA contracting schedules already “get on GSA,” pointing out later that “the whole purpose of GSA is to make you do things faster.”

Sahakian said that CBP has “pretty much moved” to using a statement of objectives in its procurements and away from a statement of work. A statement of objectives in government acquisition parlance emphasizes outcomes and desired results at a detailed level, whereas a statement of work defines needed tasks in more specific terms.

CBP wants responses to its RFI by April 12.