Despite Virtual Border Fence’s Demise, DHS Spending Big on New Sensor Systems

By Stew Magnuson
After one year of studying whether it was wise to proceed with SBInet — the so-called virtual border fence — Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pulled the plug on its current iteration.

DHS has not soured on technology to monitor the borders, though. Plans call for more than $800 million to be spent in the near term on sensor systems and unmanned aircraft.

SBInet lasted five years, resulted in 53 miles of coverage in Arizona and cost nearly $1 billion. DHS will study the nine Border Patrol sectors to come up with the correct mix of technologies for each region’s unique features, Napolitano said. The department will spend $750 million to cover the remainder of Arizona’s border with proven technologies, an executive summary of the DHS study on the program said.

Shortly before the SBInet announcement, Customs and Border Protection signed a $101.9 million contract to procure 40 additional mobile surveillance systems from ICx Technologies, a subsidiary of FLIR Systems. CBP currently has 41 such systems deployed on the southern and northern borders, Border Patrol Agent Lloyd Easterling told National Defense.

The camera towers can be mounted in the bed of pickup trucks or towed by a trailer. They feature FLIR’s HRC-X ultra-long thermal imaging camera, a ground surveillance radar that can track moving objects and day/night imagers. The system can also monitor unattended ground sensors that are designed to pick up the movement of illegal border crossers.

Using a local area network, images produced by the sensor suite can be transmitted to other Border Patrol agents in nearby vehicles, according to ICx press statements.

The fixed price contract includes a $26 million funded base year with four option periods.

Meanwhile, a DHS analysis of alternatives on the SBInet program mentioned four proven technologies that may be part of any future deployments: hand-held sensors carried by agents; the mobile surveillance systems; unmanned aerial vehicles; and thermal imagers and cameras mounted on fixed towers. Parts of the original SBInet system may be incorporated into a future program, the report said.

Another big pot of money for the borders include American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds totaling $50 million. Originally intended for SBInet, these funds have been diverted to buy backscatter radars for Border Patrol checkpoints, vehicle- and aircraft-mounted cameras, thermal imagers, and the mobile surveillance systems.

Congress chipped in with an emergency border security supplemental appropriation in 2010 that provided $14 million for new communication gear and $32 million for two new unmanned aerial vehicles.

Days after the announcement to terminate SBInet, DHS released a request for information for a system of towers and communication gear similar in description to SBInet. It must be at an advanced technology readiness level.

“CBP intends to procure an existing, fully developed, and integrated system that makes maximum use of an open systems approach,” the RFI stated.

Topics: Homeland Security, Border Security

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