Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator David Pekoske says his agency plans to field 40 new advanced checkpoint screening systems for aviation security this year for further operational testing in advanced of a larger rollout in fiscal year 2019.

TSA will field “almost” 40 computed tomography (CT)-based systems to screen carry-on bags, 28 of which will go to airports in the U.S. and the rest to three different government test facilities, Pekoske told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation. “We are moving very rapidly to deploy CT X-Ray technology at the checkpoint. This is my top priority.”

Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske.
Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske.

A five-year technology investment plan that TSA delivered to Congress in late December showed plans to buy only two CT systems each year between fiscal years 2018 and 2020. Pekoske said the reason for the disparity between the earlier plan and his new plans is that the investment strategy preceded the actual budget.

Pekoske has said previously that he needs Congress to reprogram a portion of the agency’s fiscal year 2018 budget to begin to buy more CT systems.

TSA is currently testing at two airport checkpoints CT systems supplied by Integrated Defense & Security Solutions and L3 Technologies [LLL]. The agency is expected to begin testing a system supplied by Analogic [ALOG] early this year at another airport screening lane. Smiths Detection is also developing CT system for checkpoint applications.

The CT systems that TSA will deploy this year will be for developmental and operational testing, Pekoske said. “We are planning a much larger deployment in fiscal year ’19. Details of this will be provided in the president’s budget when it is released in a few weeks.” Fiscal year 2019 will include the “first large tranche” of funding for the systems, he said.

Pekoske declined to offer any details about his agency’s pending fiscal year 2019 budget request, which will go to Congress in early February, but offered that the budget environment is “resource constrained.”

Last November, when Pekoske appeared before the full committee, he said wider deployments of the CT systems would wait until after the algorithms being developed for the systems meet a new detection standard, called the Accessible Property Screening Standard (APSS). He told the subcommittee on Thursday that TSA is ready to move forward with CT deployments before their detection algorithms are mature enough to meet the APSS standard, which covers a broader array of threats than the current standard.

Ultimately, how many CT systems will be needed isn’t known, Pekoske said. There are about 2,400 Advanced Technology (AT) X-Ray systems currently deployed to screen checked bags and he said a straight up replacement would mean as many CT systems. TSA has said it expects to retain some AT systems.

The CT systems provide an operator with a 3D image of a bag’s contents, versus a 2D image generated by the AT systems, providing a more granular view of potential threats. The new systems also have the potential to automatically detect the presence of explosives inside bags, which could eventually lead to automated alerts for bags with threats in them and more rapid processing of bags overall, leading to higher throughput at the checkpoint.

Pekoske also told the panel that in the area of technology investment at the checkpoint, which he believes will “yield the greatest impact on mitigating threats to aviation,” he is “developing a TSA Strategy and Administrator’s Intent and a capital investment plan.  These will guide TSA’s implementation of future technology development as part of a larger systems approach.”