Israeli Firm’s Subsidiary Tapped to Build New Border Towers

By Stew Magnuson

After almost two years of gathering solicitations and testing systems, Customs and Border Protection awarded a contract for a series of new fixed towers in southern Arizona to the U.S. subsidiary of Israeli defense firm Elbit Systems.

Elbit Systems of North America won the hotly contested Integrated Fixed Tower firm fixed price contract worth $142.5 million. Options could extend the contract an additional eight and a half years, the federal notice said.

John Hernandez, a homeland security analyst with Frost & Sullivan, said the relatively small amount of money indicates that CBP wants to take a cautious approach in the aftermath of the mismanaged Secure Border Initiative, which ended up costing the government more than $1 billion and was ultimately canceled for cost overruns.

Elbit beat out U.S.-based giants such as SAIC, DRS Technologies, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.

Hernandez said he was not surprised that Elbit won the contract. CBP officials have said they were not looking for any cutting edge solutions, but rather tried and tested systems. Elbit’s real-word experience guarding the border between Israel and the Palestinian territory on the West Bank gave it an edge, he said.

The other bigger contractors “haven’t proven themselves in that arena,” Hernandez said. Some may have systems that guard sensitive facilities such as nuclear weapons plants, but that is not the same as the intense security situation in the Middle East, he said.

“I think they (CBP) see how they are securing their borders on the West Bank, and said, ‘Let’s give these guys a try,’” Hernandez said.

Now it will be up to Elbit to deliver, Hernandez said. The eight years of options, along with the nearly two years it took to award the contract, demonstrates CBP’s deliberate approach.

The Government Accountability Office and DHS inspector general probably gave CBP a lot of “heat” for not following good management processes during the SBInet program, he added. CBP stuck with Boeing as its contractor until the program was ended in 2011.

Elbit also has experience using small unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the border, and that technology might be in the mix in the coming years, Hernandez noted.

Topics: Homeland Security, Border Security, DHS Budget, Procurement

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