The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) plans to award a contract to OSI Systems’ [OSIS] Rapiscan division to field test an upgraded version of the company’s Eagle Portal cargo and vehicle inspection system to see how well it performs in detecting special nuclear materials and other materials that could be used to shield threat materials.

DNDO announced its contract plans in a FedBizOpps notice earlier this month. The six-month field test will take place at a United States port.

The test project is part of a revised program originally aimed at developing new technologies to more accurately detect the presence of nuclear threat materials, and even the materials that would be used to shield the nuclear materials, inside of cargo containers and vehicles. DNDO revised the Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography System (CAARS) when it realized that the technologies under development weren’t mature enough to enter the procurement phase of the program (TR2, July 9).

While the development effort remains in place with the three CAARS contractors–American Science and Engineering [ASEI], L-3 Communications [LLL] and Science Applications International Corp. [SAI]–DNDO and its end customer Customs and Border Protection (CBP), decided to investigate existing Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) systems to see how well they fare against the demanding requirements of CAARS. These current NII systems may not fully meet the mandates of CAARS but the goal now is to meet at least a portion of those requirements.

The field tests with the Eagle Portal will likely begin this fall. “We’re ready to go now,” Peter Kant, vice president of Government Affairs at Rapiscan, tells TR2.

DNDO awarded the CAARS contracts in 2006. Possibly to hedge its bets, the agency also awarded Rapiscan a development contract that year for the company to upgrade its Eagle Portal for the anti-nuclear mission. That award was followed up with a second in early 2007 to prototype the technology and a third award earlier this year for data fusion to improve the performance of existing nuclear detection techniques.

“The system is developed,” Kant says of upgraded Eagle Portal. The upgraded version of the Eagle Portal can do the nuclear detection mission and simultaneously continue to screen for typical contraband such as drugs, weapons and illegal aliens without degrading throughput, he says. Moreover, the upgrade can be installed on existing Eagle Portals, he adds.

If the field test demonstrates that the upgraded Eagle Portal can do what DNDO and CBP hope it can, then Kant believes there will be production opportunities for the new system.

In addition to Rapiscan, three other companies currently have indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity production contracts with CBP for cargo inspection systems. Those firms are SAIC, Varian Medical Systems [VAR] through its acquisition last year of Bio-Imaging Research, and Britain’s Smiths Detection.

So far just DNDO has only issued a sole source notice to OSI Systems to test its cargo inspection system. “However, DNDO and CBP do plan to test other cargo inspection systems procured under a CBP contract vehicle,” a DHS spokeswoman tells TR2.

The Joint Integrated NII (JINII) program, of which CAARS is a part of, will manage forthcoming field tests with the Eagle Portal and any other technologies DNDO and CBP want to take a look at for the nuclear screening mission. The program is separate from the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal, which is a DNDO effort to develop next-generation passive screening systems to determine whether cargo conveyances are carrying illicit radiological materials.

By switching directions in the JINII effort and expressing a willingness to look at NII systems that don’t meet 100 percent of the CAARS requirement, DNDO and CBP are essentially taking the approach that they aren’t going to let perfect be the enemy of the good.

“And what we were able to do, and what the Eagle Portal represents, is take a very reasonable and much lower cost approach to getting 97 percent of the way there,” Kant says.

ScanTech Looking for Notice

With the CAARS program opening the door again to some firms that previously didn’t make it through the final selection process, at least one firm isn’t happy with the direction the revised program is going.

ScanTech Holdings is doing the final integration testing of its ALL SECURE mobile X-Ray container inspection system that lost out in the final selection process under CAARS. The small Georgia-based company was teamed with General Electric [GE] and Lockheed Martin [LMT] for the CAARS bid several years ago.

ScanTech and its teammates made it to the Best and Final Offer process for CAARS.

“We were told at the time we had the highest technical rating,” Micky Blackwell, a director and chairman of ScanTech’s board, tells TR2. “But they still didn’t know who we were. That was the real problem. They’ve never been down to see us. They had never followed up with any of our calls to them. The fact is that after we went through the BAFO we were eliminated.”

The All Secure system began its final integration testing last month in Connecticut with ScanTech’s partner VJ Technologies, Blackwell says. Those tests will run through August. Blackwell says that DNDO Deputy Director Chuck Galloway was invited to observe some of the testing but declined because the agency is still reviewing a proposal from ScanTech related to a Broad Agency Announcement.

“So they still don’t know what’s out there in the world today,” Blackwell says of DNDO. “They’re going back to the old people that they’ve already funded to see if they can improve the systems that are already out there. And they still haven’t come to see our system.

“It’s the same old, same old and what they’re going to get is the same old, same old,” Blackwell says.

One shortcoming All Secure had two years ago was that ScanTech had not yet developed a conveyor system that could move trucks through the imaging system. Blackwell says that was just a low technology hurdle and that All Secure now has the conveyor component.

While it continues to look for ways to secure some traction in the U.S. through partnerships and federal contracts, ScanTech has been marketing its products overseas. In addition to the container inspection system, the company has also developed a checkpoint screening system for carry-on baggage.

Last month ScanTech announced a partnership with Abu Dhabi Police to produce and deliver a number of the company’s Sentinel X-Ray inspection systems to be deployed at five international airports in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is also interested in the All Secure system but like other potential partners wants to see how the system fares in its final testing, Blackwell says.

The dual-energy Sentinel can map the density and atomic numbers of the contents of a bag, allowing it to distinguish between threatening and non-threatening materials, Blackwell says. All Secure also employs dual energy technology to differentiate between organic and inorganic materials.

ScanTech’s systems are based in the Moscow Radio Technical Institute. The company employs former scientists from the institute as well as former scientists from Sandia National Laboratory who are leaders in the field of the Electronic Beam technology at the core of the All Secure and Sentinel systems, Blackwell says.