Customs and Border Protection late last fall began testing and is now operating new fixed sensor towers in two new locations along the southwest border in Arizona, bringing the number of border miles covered by the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT) system to around 200.
The installations were completed in the Tucson and Ajo Border Patrol areas of responsibility in late fall for system acceptance testing and now the IFT systems are operational, Gordon Kesting, vice president for Homeland Security for Elbit Systems of America, said in a recent interview. A CBP spokesperson confirmed that the IFT deployments in Tucson and Ajo are complete and “fully operational.”
The two recent installations mark the fourth and fifth Border Patrol areas of responsibility where Elbit has installed its IFT systems, which consist of radar and day/night cameras and related communications atop fixed tower sites that are anywhere between 80 and 130 feet tall.
The 200 miles of linear border where the 55 IFT towers are deployed provide coverage of about 2,500 square miles, Kesting said. The most recent deployments at the Tucson and Ajo sectors replaced the original Secure Border Network Initiative (SBINet) deployments installed by Boeing [BA] and operated by the Border Patrol beginning in February and August 2010 respectively.
The SBINet program was cancelled in 2010 with just the Tucson and Ajo deployments being completed.
Kesting said the cutovers from the SBINet systems to IFT were essentially done in real-time with no breaks in sensor coverage. Overall, the IFT systems are performing to expectation and are achieving 98 percent availability rates, he said.
Previous IFT deployments occurred in the Nogales, Douglas and Sonoita, Ariz., Border Patrol station areas, which are also part of the Tucson Sector.
Elbit Systems of America, an arm of Israel’s Elbit Systems [ESLT], in 2014 won a potential nine-year, $145.3 million contract for the IFT systems and related maintenance. The sixth and final IFT system for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector is planned to be installed on Indian land governed by the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona.
Once the Nation has resolved to allow the deployment, CBP is ready to move forward, the agency spokesperson said.
The Nation’s tribal lands cross into Mexico and are an area where illegal migrants cross into the U.S. and where the Border Patrol operates. In a Jan. 23 interview with National Public Radio, a Tohono O’odham leader said his Nation doesn’t want a physical wall to divide their land but suggested that the IFT system would be okay on their land.
CBP has said it is also interested in further IFT deployments in California, New Mexico and parts of Texas, Kesting said. CBP has “touted” the cost-effectiveness of the IFT contract with costs coming in well under expectations so there is plenty of room on the existing contract, he said.
The radar on the IFT systems detect targets and the day/night cameras allow Border Patrol agents at command and control centers to track, identify and classify targets and then relay relevant information to agents in the field who can move to interdict any illegal activity.
Beyond the IFT deployments, Elbit has been working with CBP to enhance the capabilities of the system. Kesting said that unattended ground sensors deployed in areas along the southern border are being integrated in to the IFT’s command and control system, providing greater situational awareness for the Border Patrol, he said.
The IFT command and control system is built on an open architecture that allows for the integration of other sensors, including the Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS), which consist of day/night cameras in fixed locations, and the different types of mobile surveillance systems that CBP has already deployed, Kesting said. Such extensive sensor integration would help the agency create a common operating picture, he said.
The IFT systems, along with the General Dynamics [GD]-built RVSS, mobile systems, unattended ground sensors, and agent portable technology are all part of the border security layers used by the Border Patrol to monitor for potential illegal activity between ports of entry. The Border Patrol also relies on manned and unmanned aircraft to provide border security and in some areas, physical barriers.
Under President Donald Trump, most of the attention, and funding, around border security has been for more physical barriers. This month the president signed a bipartisan compromise funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2019 that provides $100 million for border security technology between ports of entry.
The Trump administration requested a little more than $40 million for border security technology last February as part of the FY ’19 DHS budget submission and earlier this month House Democrats has proposed $400 million, but the final agreement says that there is still more than $200 million in unspent CBP funds from FY ’18 for these technologies.