TSA Taps AS&E, L-3, Smiths Detection for Initial AIT 2 Awards

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has selected American Science and Engineering [ASEI], L-3 Communications [LLL] and Smiths Detection to provide the second generation of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units for passenger checkpoint screening under a potential $245 million contract

Industry officials suggest additional companies may be added to the award, in particular OSI Systems’ [OSIS] Rapiscan Systems division, which along with L-3 has supplied TSA with the first generation of AIT systems that are in use at a number of U.S. airports.

However, unlike L-3 which developed an automatic target recognition (ATR) upgrade for its AIT units that TSA has deployed, Rapiscan has struggled to do the same. And under AIT 2, TSA is only purchasing systems that have the ATR capability, which highlights on a specific area of a person’s body where a potential threat may be hidden, making it easier and less intrusive for an agency screener to quickly conduct a secondary screening that doesn’t have to require a full-body pat down.

The ceiling value for the award is $245 million combined for the companies that will compete to supply TSA with AIT 2 systems. The agency initially plans to acquire a limited number of the systems from each company for laboratory testing.

Depending on the results of the laboratory testing, TSA will determine if any of the systems are ready for testing in an airport environment.

In addition to being required to have the ATR capability, the AIT 2 units have a smaller physical footprint than the current AIT systems.

For AS&E the selection is important because if TSA procures the company’s systems for wide-scale deployment in U.S. airports, it will mark the first time any of the company’s technology has been purchased by the agency for extensive use. TSA tested AS&E’s initial version of the SmartCheck backscatter X-Ray based AIT system several years ago in U.S. airports but ultimately chose L-3’s and Rapiscan’s technology for operational deployments.

The backscatter technology has come under fire from some members of Congress and health groups concerned that the system’s ionizing radiation can cause cancer in people such as frequent fliers that may be subject to frequent use by the technology. However, TSA has consistently refuted these concerns citing a number of studies and the European Commission earlier this year also issued a study rejecting health concerns from routine use of the backscatter-based systems.

Rapiscan’s Secure 1000 AIT system in use at some airports today is based on backscatter technology.

One industry official tells TR2 that the selection of AS&E for an AIT 2 award demonstrates that TSA is willing to take on the public pressure over concerns about ionizing radiation.

Smiths Detection, which already has a presence at U.S. airport security checkpoints through its Advanced Technology X-Ray systems used to screen carry-on bags, the selection of its eqo AIT system would mark an expansion of the company’s footprint at the checkpoint if TSA purchases the systems for operational use.

Smiths Detection introduced the millimeter wave technology-based eqo in 2009, first in Europe and then in the U.S. (TR2, Feb. 4, Sept. 16, 2009). Unlike the AIT systems that TSA has deployed operationally or for testing previously, eqo has a smaller footprint. The system also features a real-time, movie-like imaging capability of a person being screened although this capability is unlikely to be used by TSA given the ATR requirement.

Eqo is already in use around the world including in the United Kingdom, Russia and France, deployed at airports and in government buildings.

For L-3, which supplies the millimeter wave technology-based ProVision AIT system, the award demonstrates that the company has been able to successfully keep pace with TSA’s requirements, that is if its AIT 2 system is eventually purchased for operational use.

The AIT 2 system that L-3 will supply to TSA for laboratory testing has a smaller footprint in terms of floor space than the original ProVision system and is shorter, allowing it to accommodate tighter checkpoint areas, Bill Frain, senior vice president at L-3’s Security and Detection Systems unit, tells TR2 in response to an email. “It will offer the same great image-free detection and throughput as the widely deploy ProVision ADT. The weight is roughly similar to the ProVision ATD,” he adds.

A TSA spokesman says the AIT 2 units will have a faster throughput than the first generation systems.

L-3 will unveil its AIT 2 unit at the end of October at the annual AVSEC World conference in New York City.

AIT systems, often referred to as whole body scanners, are used in primary screening to detect potential threats hidden underneath a person’s clothing. Equipped with the ATR capability, the AIT 2 systems detect metallic and non-metallic anomalies and locate and hightlight the potential threats on a passenger.