Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials that oversee border security technology programs are considering new approaches to their overall efforts with desired outcomes including more integrated command and control centers, more interoperability among systems, more capability, and lower life-cycle costs.

The CBP Border Patrol Program Management Office Directorate has 17 different programs, many of them similar in that they use cameras and or radars but in different ways. In large part, this arose out of the Arizona Border Technology Plan, which was initiated in 2011 to quickly deploy different types of technologies to the southern border based on different terrains and environments.

Remote Video Surveillance System sensor suite atop a monopole. Photo: General Dynamics
Remote Video Surveillance System sensor suite atop a monopole. Photo: General Dynamics

Now, CBP is “taking a step back” to see whether “there might be a better approach” based on the commonalities of these systems, such as cameras, which are installed on fixed or relocatable towers, and ask “’why do we need to continue buying multiple different types of cameras that cost us more money to support in the long run,” Chief Kelly Good, deputy executive director of the Program Management Office Directorate, told Defense Daily during a phone interview on Thursday.

It’s the same with the towers that these cameras and radars are on, Good said. “We should be able to use the same kind of towers, whether their fixed towers or relocatable towers.”

Good and other CBP and Border Patrol acquisition and program officials on Monday hosted an industry day on “Common Acquisition Approaches,” that included presentations on the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT) and Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) programs. The IFT systems feature day and night cameras and radars, while the RVSS, which include both fixed and relocatable towers, are equipped with day and night cameras.

The Border Patrol, which is a division of CBP, also operates different mobile surveillance systems. The Mobile Video Surveillance System (MVSS) has day and night cameras while the Mobile Surveillance Capability (MSC) system includes day and night cameras and radar.

And all of these systems–IFT, RVSS, MVSS and MSC–operate using different types of command and control (C2) systems.

“So if I can neck down how many different types of radars I’m using, or how many different types of cameras I’m using, and more importantly, If I can start necking down the amount of C2, basically the command and control of those different systems and get that down to one type of system to truly be command and control to do all of those sensor integration pieces, it reduces a lot of cost in the long run,” Good said.

For example, Good said that a Border Patrol command center for the Nogales, Ariz., operational area receives sensor feeds from both IFT and RVSS systems, and those feeds go to separate workstations.

“They’re not integrated right now,” he said. “So I have some operators working RVSS cameras and I have other operators that are working IFT, whereas if there were an integrated solution, not only would I get all of that information together, I would actually be able to do what’s called sensor fusion and sensor correlation, and start putting some other technologies such as artificial intelligence [and] machine learning capabilities to bring all of those sensors into one package, which would drastically reduce my manpower requirements as well, but more importantly provide that one situational awareness so that people could make decisions better.”

Right now, the sensor inputs from the MVSS and MSC systems feed to the local operators but Good said that CBP is working to equip these mobile systems with the communications necessary to bring the sensor feeds to the area Border Patrol C2 center and into the common operating picture. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to network data from other sensors as well, such as unattended ground sensors, into an integrated common operating picture, he said.

Essentially, CBP is examining open architecture approaches that help avoid vendor lock and provide the flexibility and scalability to adapt to changing and evolving requirements while keeping a lid on costs, Good said.

The Border Patrol also wants more capability from its existing systems. The IFT and RVSS systems allow for automatic detection of items of interest but operators want automatic identification and tracking capabilities, Good said. The technology needs to be able to distinguish between a cow and a person and then provide an appropriate alert, he said.

Briefing slides from the Oct. 15 industry day describe a number of lessons learned from the IFT and RVSS program in addition to the need for automatic identification and tracking. Other lessons include getting information on items of interest to field agents faster, reducing manpower needs in C2 centers, overcoming coverage gaps due to terrain and vegetation, and costly post award contract changes.

Elbit Systems of America, a business unit of Israel’s Elbit Systems [ESLT], is the prime contractor for IFT and General Dynamics [GD] is the prime contractor for RVSS. FLIR Systems [FLIR] is the prime contractor for MVSS and Tactical Micro, part of Secure Technology Company, is the prime for the MSC.

For the Common Contract Approach for the IFT and RVSS program, CBP currently plans to release a Request for Proposals around May 2019 and award a contract in August 2020. Good said that CBP is still evaluating the contract approach it will take but said the agency really wants to get down to one type of camera and C2 capability.

CBP wants to be involved in the decisions regarding the sensors and C2 capabilities that are ultimately acquired and wants an integrator to put it together, Good said. The agency doesn’t want a lead systems integrator for the acquisition because that contractor would have responsibility for selecting the various sensors and systems, he said.