Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last month issued a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for its Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) system, saying it is seeking bids that best balance performance with price trade-offs.

The document lays out dozens of Operational and Functional Capability Interests the agency is seeking from the multi-sensor, fixed-towers in the areas of president surveillance, C4I, support and sustainment along with key performance parameters.

Key performance parameters include detection and identification threshold range of 5 miles and an objective range of 7.5 miles, threshold and objective operational availabilities of 95 and 99 percent, respectively, for the towers and command and control centers.

Some of the operational capabilities of interest include among other things that the surveillance tower units be able to automatically detect, track and report various items of interest, and that an entire IFT system, which consists of more than one tower unit, maintain a single track on an item of interest as it moves between the individual towers with an area of coverage.

In a sign that CBP may eventually install these towers along some stretches of the country’s northern border, the agency seeks an operational capability of interest for surviving in the environments of both the southwest and northern borders.

The IFTs will consist of an interconnected set of fixed towers, each equipped with a radar, electro-optic and infrared cameras and related communications equipment that link to a common operating picture (COP) at a Border Patrol station to give agents greater situational awareness along a particular stretch of Arizona’s border with Mexico. The radar on one tower can cue any camera on the other towers that are part of an IFT system. The data from an IFT system will be displayed on a single screen.

The IFT systems that CBP wants will be non-developmental items, meaning the systems should be available for testing and then acquisition and deployment.

The IFT program is one element of CBP’s new Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Program, which sprung up in the wake of the cancellation of the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) early last year. Boeing [BA] is the prime contractor for SBInet, which is operational in two areas of Arizona encompassing about 53 miles of border.

Other elements of the Arizona technology plan include mobile surveillance systems, which CBP is acquiring from FLIR Systems [FLIR] and Griffon Corp.’s [GFF] Telephonics division, pole-mounted, camera-based Remote Video Surveillance Systems (RVSS), Agent Portable Surveillance Systems, which consist of tri-pod mounted cameras and radars, and handheld thermal imagers.

Unlike SBInet, which was largely based on the multi-sensor, fixed towers lining most of the nation’s southwest border, this time around CBP plans to apply one or more of these systems in its toolbox depending on the requirements of a particular area of the border. The agency planned to acquire 15 of the APSS systems by the end of 2011 through an interagency agreement with the Army, which has used the systems in military operations.

Open Architecture

Another feature of the IFT, which grew out of the lessons learned from SBInet, is the desire for a certain level of open architecture. The draft RFP says that open architecture is a requirement for the standards for COP capabilities.

It also says that regardless of what definition of open architecture someone uses, the IFTs “must conform” to certain “architectural qualities” such as interoperability, published and managed key interfaces, extensibility in the design of components, modularity, non-proprietary and standards-based, and portability among others.

In the area of portability, the draft RFP says “The use of standards-based COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) technologies as the basis for the lower layers is an important aspect is that the ‘higher-level’ services are built upon those of the lower layers. Portability to a new platform (hardware, operating system, network architecture, etc.) comes from isolating the higher level applications and services from the specifics of the lower levels.”

In an interview early last month with TR2, Mark Borkowski, CBP’s assistant commissioner for the Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition (OTIA), said that industry bids for IFT systems that have open interfaces will be valued more highly in the source selection process (TR2, Dec. 7, 2011).

Borkowski said that he’s willing to pay “a little more” for these open interfaces although how much more “I don’t know” yet.

The final RFP for IFT is expected to be released early this year. Borkowski also expects the RFP for RVSS to be release early this year, possibly this month.

Unlike SBInet, which CBP crafted with little input from the user community, namely the Border Patrol, and other stakeholders within the Department of Homeland Security, the draft RFP says the Capabilities of Interest were put together through an Integrated Product Team authorized by OTIA. The team consisted of Border Patrol agents, technology subject matter experts, systems engineers and acquisition professionals.

Responses to the draft RFP were due by Dec. 23, 2011. The IFT program will include 50 fixed surveillance towers (FST) and 11 communications towers and encompass six areas of responsibility along Arizona’s southern border: Nogales (seven FSTs, one communications tower); Sonoita (8, 3); Douglas (8, 4); Casa Grande (7, 1); Ajo (8, 1); and Wellton (12, 1). The towers range from 80 to 120-feet tall, although some of the communications towers are listed as being 160-feet tall.