Fiscal constraints are causing the Pentagon to more closely scrutinize programs and find ways to reduce costs although the Pentagon’s senior leaders are committed to biometric-related programs as an “enduring capability,” says a Defense Department official.

However, the level and degree to which DoD leaders are committed to this capability is still to-be-determined, John Boyd, director of Defense Forensics and Biometrics within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, says at a biometrics conference hosted by IDGA.

Once joint effort in the biometrics space that is now off the table is the Joint Personnel Identification version 2, which was expected to replace existing tactical biometric collection devices used by the Army, navy and Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The “initial cut” of the JPIv2, a mobile device that would have various configurations to collect different biometrics, “was just too expensive for DoD,” Boyd says.

Boyd says his office, SOCOM and elements within the Army are “looking at ways to dramatically reduce the costs for [tactical biometric] devices and meet warfighter needs.” He also says there are “groups” that are “looking to provide these capabilities at dramatically reduced costs.”

An industry official says that the fallback option on tactical collection devices may be to continue to rely on existing fielded systems, which are supplied by companies like Cross Match Technologies and Safran Group’s Morpho division.

Boyd also points out that there never was an approved requirement for JPIv2.

Fiscal challenges as well as technical and other issues are also impacting an existing biometrics program, the authoritative database that DoD established as Quick Reaction Capability in response to mission needs from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) is used to store, match and share biometric data such as fingerprints and iris images that are collected in the field so that U.S. armed forces and to a degree their allies, can deny anonymity to terrorists and insurgents who can easily blend into their populations.

An important requirement of warfighters’ is that when they use the tactical collection devices, they want to know what it means when they have a biometric match of a person they’ve just encountered, Boyd says. He adds that there have been “funding concerns” and “upgrade challenges” associated with the Army’s efforts to increase the capability of the existing ABIS from 1.0 to the 1.2 version.

The ABIS program and its “get well plan” have been briefed to multiple Assistant Secretaries of Defense in the past month and even to Pentagon Acquisition Chief Frank Kendall late last year, Boyd says. These challenges are not only technical but also have to do with “documentation,” such as creating the right business rules for data sharing, he says.

“This is being pushed at the highest levels within OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) right now,” Boyd says.

ABIS Test Plans

The Army was expected to turn on its ABIS 1.2 version late last summer, but issues that arose in testing led to the “get well” plan. The upgrades include greater storage capacity and increased daily transaction capability.

This month customer testing of the upgraded ABIS system is getting underway. That testing will be conducted by the Army Electronic Proving Ground’s Intelligence Electronic Warfare Directorate at sites in different states. The tests provide “valuable information through the acquisition cycle on safety, performance, reliability, and military utility for developers, contractors, evaluators and users,” the Army tells HSR in response to questions.

The tests will be observed by SOCOM, Central Command, Africa Command and the National Ground Intelligence Center. The tests do involve warfighter participation, other end users and additional federal agencies, the Army says.

Discussions are also underway about the scope for an eventual operational test of the ABIS system that will be conducted by the Army Test and Evaluation Command. The operational test environment will simulate the actual environment in which the system is expected to be used and will be used “to determine the impact of the system with respect to overall mission requirements with operational units,” the Army says.

The Army is reviewing its plans longer-term for ABIS, which was supposed to undergo a more significant upgrade in a few years following a new competition for the system. However, no Request for Proposal is currently planned for that upgrade, which would be called Biometric Enabling Capability Increment 1. Instead, the Army will conduct an Analysis of Alternatives that will help inform the way forward on this effort. Northrop Grumman [NOC] is currently the prime contractor for ABIS.

Boyd outlined three key priorities overall for the defense biometrics enterprise. One is continuing to build a “sustainable and enduring program,” he says, adding that it “is not adequately funded” currently. Collection devices and the “store, match, and analysis capabilities” top the list here, which are the primary capabilities to meet mission needs, he says.

Another priority is to redefine biometrics to adjust to the changed fiscal environment and update the DoD directive outlining roles and responsibilities around biometrics at Boyd’s level and with the Army, he says. Finally, continued investment in future capabilities is needed, he says.

Another priority is to redefine biometrics to adjust to the changed fiscal environment and update the DoD directive outlining roles and responsibilities around biometrics.

Finally, continued investment in future capabilities is needed, Boyd says. Here, things like confidence in results need to be improved as does response time, increased standoff capabilities, reduced time on target, improved accuracy, and pushing analysis forward, he says.

Boyd also says that commercial systems need to be better leveraged.

Technology Projects

Some specific science and technology investments that are important include the Biometric Enabled Watch List (BEWL) Dissemination Management Server (BDMS) that is being sponsored by Boyd’s office with participation from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Army Research Development and Engineering Command.

An operational prototype of an automated request and response BEWL Management System is slated to be delivered later this year, Boyd says. The system will organize individuals by “known characteristics” and move beyond the current “land-based centric” system that is geared for the Iraq and Afghan war theaters, he says. The system is expected to lead to “shorter request and response times due to the distribution of BEWLs,” he adds.

The BEWL is a subset from the overall gallery of identities that is elevated to watch list status because of certain information. The Army says that submitters and collectors of biometrics are instructed to take specific actions on a subject such as detain or deny access based on the category that the subject is associated with in the BEWL.

Another system being developed is the Next-Generation Mobile Identification, which is a “sled” for an iPhone that integrates fingerprint, face, iris and voice data for tactical collection, matching, storing and sharing, Boyd says. The NGMI project is being co-sponsored with Boyd’s office, SOCOM and others, he says.

“The goal is to integrate a larger, more technically advanced fingerprint sensor into the sled to measure two flat fingerprints simultaneously or a rolled print,” Boyd says. He notes that in “the early days” of tactical biometric collection there were sensors being used that didn’t meet the standard which resulted in the collection of some poor quality images.

In June the plan is to deliver five prototype NGMI platforms for test and evaluation between June and August, Boyd says.

Finally, Boyd says the Rapid Biometric System for Physical Access will leverage biometrics for one-to-one automated and rapid verification of individuals in a vehicle for use at access control points at a military base or facility. The system would use cameras to determine the number of occupants in a vehicle and facial recognition.

A prototype has been developed and delivered for testing and evaluation beginning this month at Fort Belvoir, Boyd says. The project will also examine how to improve facial recognition, he says. General Electric [GE] is the contractor for this work and is using its high-speed multi-resolution camera that can capture facial images at a range of 22 to 33 meters, he adds. The vehicle can be tracked within capture zones as it moves throughout the base and to continually identify the occupants within the vehicle, even if it has tinted glass, he says.

The technology around facial recognition is “technically straight forward,” Boys says, but there are policy issues, particularly around privacy and civil liberties concerns. This issues, among others, include why are images being captured, where are they being stored and for how long, he says.