The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is beginning the move toward requiring the security equipment it buys to have standard interfaces to enable third party software applications be added to the screening systems to cope with new threats, the head of the agency said this week.

When TSA became concerned about powders in carry-on bags for potential bomb-making use, the agency required them to be separated from other items because it didn’t have a technology that could discern whether a threat was present. With an open architecture approach to security equipment, TSA will be able to ask its “trusted” vendor community to quickly develop a software solution that can be layered into the existing equipment “that will help detect this particular item of concern,” David Pekoske, the TSA administrator, said during an Association of American Airport Executives security conference.

By quickly, Pekoske said within 60 to 90 days, which “will change our agility in the screening process.”

The decision has already been made that when TSA buys future checkpoint computed tomography (CT) systems, “we’re going to require the manufacturers to make them open architecture compatible,” he told attendees. He later told Defense Daily the next acquisition round for the checkpoint CT systems will be in early 2023.

The next checkpoint CT competition is currently planned for March 2023 and will include multiple vendors across multiple configurations, Mario Wilson, assistant administrator of Acquisition Program Management at TSA, told attendees on Wednesday.

So far, TSA has acquired checkpoint CT systems from Smiths Detection and Analogic, with contracts to Analogic in late 2021 and early 2022 being the only ones under the current threat detection standard. Smiths Detection in September said its HI-SCAN 6040 CTiX scanner had been added to TSA’s checkpoint property screening system (CPSS) mid-size qualified products list, making it eligible in any future competition for mid-size configurations. Integrated Defense and Security Solutions, and Leidos [LDOS] are also vying to be qualified under the CPSS effort.

Austin Gould, TSA’s acting administrator for Operations Support, on Tuesday echoed Pekoske, saying that the agency will not be “beholden” to the CT vendor once the systems have an open architecture.

“You can go to the best of breed algorithm developer who’s very agile, get that and install those systems virtually overnight,” he said. “You avoid a lot of development issues, avoid a lot of costs associated with that.”

With open architecture, a new third-party algorithm to detect a specific threat can be installed on all checkpoint CT systems that TSA operates regardless of the vendor, Matt Gilkeson, acting executive director for Capability Management & Innovation at TSA, also told attendees on Tuesday.

Common user interfaces will also reduce the training burden of operating security equipment provided by different manufacturers, Gilkeson said.

Next up for open architecture will be the on-person screening, which is the advanced imaging technology (AIT) systems used at airport security checkpoints to scan people for potential threats hidden beneath their clothing.

“The new systems will be required to take third party algorithms,” he said, highlighting the need for alarm resolution technologies to determine whether an alarm generated by an AIT system is a threat or not.

“And those will all be based on open architecture,” Gould said. “And it will enable us to very, very quickly update hardware and systems in a way that we haven’t been able to before.”

Leidos provides the vast majority of AIT systems to TSA, although Rohde & Schwarz is also qualified by the agency and has deployed some of its body scanners to U.S. airport security checkpoints as well.

TSA’s open architecture push isn’t new, although the fact that it appears to be accelerating is. Agency leaders have talked about it for more than a decade and in July 2020 and again this past summer TSA and some of its international partners said they are working together and with equipment vendors on technical recommendations and intellectual property protections related to open architecture.