By Calvin Biesecker

Wasting little time in its effort to continue to find technological solutions to help secure the nation’s borders, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) this week issued a Request for Information (RFI) for new sensor-based Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) that would be deployed on the southwest border to help detect and identify illegal activity.

CBP says in a Jan. 18 notice in the web site that it is seeking IFT solutions that are either commercial or government-off-the-shelf that would be installed at fixed, elevated sites to "provide automated, persistent wide area surveillance for the detection, tracking, identification, and classification of illegal entries."

The planned IFT procurement follows the Department of Homeland Security’s decision last week to end the virtual fence component of the Secure Border Initiative, called SBInet (Defense Daily, Jan. 18). Based on the information presented in the RFI, the IFT towers appear similar to 15 that Boeing [BA] developed and integrated for CBP as part of SBI net and that are currently deployed and in use by the Border Patrol at two stations in Arizona, Tucson and Ajo.

SBInet was intended to provide the Border Patrol with greater sensor capabilities among the ports of entry to provide agents with more situational awareness and allow them to more effectively detect, identify and respond to illegal migrant and drug activity.

With the end of SBInet, CBP is embarking on a new technology plan that combines fewer fixed towers with more Mobile Surveillance Systems, another type of fixed tower called a Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) that has less capability than the IFT, thermal imaging devices and sensors and other equipment, including unattended ground sensors (UGS), according to a DHS assessment of SBInet issued last Friday in conjunction with the decision to end the program. The UGS were part of the original plans for SBInet.

Funding for the new technology, excluding the IFT systems, would come from the $185 million FY ’11 budget request for the Border Security, Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology (BSFIT) line item within the CBP budget if it is fully funded. Funding for the IFTs will come from future year BSFIT budgets.

Regarding the IFTs, CBP says it wants these systems to make "maximum use of an open systems approach," noting that no development will be done.

Originally the fixed, integrated towers that Boeing developed for CBP were supposed to require minimal development and basically be able to plug-and-play with various cameras and radars made by different vendors. However, the SBInet experience demonstrated that development of the integrated multi-sensor towers was troublesome and that creating open systems architecture wasn’t easy.

The RFI says that the concept of operations (CONOPS) for the IFT system includes a common operating picture (COP) fed by "one to several IFT units" with each unit featuring a "suite of sensors" as well as related power and communications. The fixed towers that Boeing developed, built and installed for CBP include a day/night camera and radar as well as the supporting power and communications equipment. The SBInet towers feed into a Boeing-developed COP at the Tucson and Ajo stations.

CBP says that the IFTs will "automatically detect IoIs (items of interest, that is, human, animal, conveyance, other), and provide agents with full motion video (FMV) to do so manually. The FMV will also enable the COP operators to classify the threat in terms of group size, whether they are migrant workers, smugglers, etc., and whether they are armed." It also says that when possible the COP will incorporate legacy feeds.

CBP also says that the IFTs will be used in adverse weather and environments, from deserts to mountainous terrain that has limited access.

The RFI also said that the IoI data will be displayed geospatially on the COP.

The new technology plan put forth by DHS for border security technology in the southwest United States calls for 52 more IFTs, in addition to the 15 currently deployed, in Arizona. The mix of technology assets to be deployed in Texas, New Mexico and California along their respective borders with Mexico is being analyzed.

The competition for the IFTs and other systems will be full and open. Boeing’s SBI contract is being extended through September 2011 so that the company can continue operation and maintenance work on the Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 deployments, maintenance of Mobile Surveillance Systems, completion of RVSS towers on the northern border, construction of physical fence in Arizona, and storing steel for future fence construction and repair.

In late December, CBP awarded potential five-year contracts to FLIR Corp. [FLIR] and Griffon Corp. [GFF] to deliver Mobile Surveillance Systems that will be deployed along the southwest border (Defense Daily, Jan. 4). FLIR is expected to deliver 33 units this year and Griffon 15.

Responses to the RFI are due by Feb. 8. [Sol. No. HSBP01l1RIFT. Contact: Timothy Evans, contract specialist, 571-468-7004,]