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As DHS Embarks on Virtual Fence Part III, Global Border Technology Business Grows 

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By Stew Magnuson 

The year-long hold on Customs and Border Protection’s controversial Secure Border Initiative will do little to dampen the market for technologies that can monitor international lines of demarcation, said an analyst who predicts growing global sales in the sector.

Robert Nutbrown, a defense industry reports writer at the London-based Visiongain, said border security technology markets will grow almost 5 percent to $25.1 billion by 2020, with high demand for perimeter surveillance, fencing and unmanned aerial vehicles. North America will continue to be the largest market, but there will be other opportunities in regions such as the Middle East, said Nutbrown, who wrote “The Border Security Market 2010-2020” report.

“In terms of the SBInet project in the U.S., I think Middle Eastern countries will inevitably look at the huge challenges faced in the implementation of such high-tech border security solutions and may rethink some of their plans,” he told National Defense in an email. “But regional governments’ appetites for striving to secure their borders through similar means will not be diminished. And with so much of the region currently in turmoil, I am sure governments will be redoubling their efforts to control the flow of people across their borders if they can.”

CBP issued a request for proposals for new sensor deployments earlier in the year and has renamed the program “Alternative (Southwest) Border Technology.” DHS officials said there will be a new competition to select a contractor.

Meanwhile, the incumbent Boeing will continue to be the contractor of choice for CBP, it was revealed at a recent House Homeland Security Committee hearing. Government Accountability Office Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Richard M. Stana said the company received a one-year contract to continue operating and maintaining the program in Arizona with a possible six-month extension.

As for Boeing’s interest in competing for the new program, spokeswoman Jenna McMullin said, “Once we have requirements to review, we will likely decide then.”
Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and BAE have told National Defense that they are interested in the new program.

David Aguilar, CBP deputy commissioner and former chief of the Border Patrol, said one of the main lessons learned from the recently cancelled program is that “software integration is not an easy thing to do.”

The third iteration of border sensors will be proven, commercial off-the-shelf technologies, he said at a National Journal border security panel discussion. (The first attempt was the Clinton administration’s Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System, which was also deemed a failure by the Government Accountability Office.)

“It was difficult. There were cost overruns. There were time lapses. [It] was very frustrating,” Aguilar said.

It was an “incremental development.” The new program will be the “incremental application of existing technologies tailored to very specific areas of the border,” he added.

Some elements of SBInet will survive and be integrated into the new system.

“What we’re doing now — and what we haven’t done — is taken that commercial-off-the-shelf proven technology along with the funding capability … which we’ve never had before and apply them in a very tailored fashion to the specific areas of the border,” he said.

Remote desert locations require different solutions than urban areas, he added.

As far as the global market, the recent IDEX show in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, revealed that several U.S. companies are seeking to sell products that have been deployed on the border. CBP has used Mobile Surveillance Systems, a suite of sensors mounted on trailers and trucks, in large numbers since the demise of the virtual fence. FLIR, its manufacturer, was displaying the technology at the show. General Atomics, maker of the Predator UAVs that have been flown along the borders, was selling its new export version of the aircraft.

Nutbrown said UAVs are “a very exciting area of the border security market. Even though [unmanned systems] have been deployed in military theaters of operations with great success, their use for homeland security applications remains in its infancy,” he said. “I anticipate that Middle Eastern governments will again look to the U.S., which has taken the lead in this field, and learn how these platforms could be deployed to monitor border areas in the future.”

Saudi Arabia has already launched a major border security program using European contractor EADS Defence and Security as its integrator. Jordan and the UAE have programs in the works, he added.

“This marketplace offers business opportunities for the major European and North American defense and security companies, which are the ones that have the experience to bring together all the elements of highly complex projects of this nature,” he said.

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