DHS looking into 'tunnel vision'

The Homeland Security Department has asked the research community to propose innovative methods that would enable the use of sensors and IT to detect tunnels, especially those beneath U.S. borders.

The department's Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency plans to issue $1 million to $2 million in contracts or grants this year to push tunnel detection technology forward.

The advanced research project funding could be a harbinger of additional research funding, as well as increased spending to deploy tunnel detection systems.

The research agency's Broad Agency Announcement states that DHS expects to issue contracts in the range of $100,000 to $200,000 each for the tunnel detection research projects.

DHS is conducting the BAA procurement in two rounds. Organizations seeking to offer proposals in the first round must register their intent by March 11 and submit their proposals by March 18. Proposals for the second round are due Sept. 15, with corresponding earlier deadlines for submitting white papers on possible projects and registering to submit a proposal.

SBINet program manager Greg Giddens said recently at a budget briefing that his organization was using or planning to use various types of advanced technology to detect underground border crossings as well as illegal surface transit. Some of that technology falls in the category of advanced geospatial intelligence, Giddens acknowledged.

Sources in the federal geospatial intelligence community have noted that tunnels leave behind traces that can be detected by satellite imagery, as well as by sensors on unmanned aerial vehicles. Those signatures include signs that earth that has been excavated from a tunnel, as well as dips in the ground immediately above a tunnel. Shallow tunnels can also generate signatures such as temperature differences between soil above the tunnel and the adjoining ground, the sources said.

The proposal request specified several aspects of the IT that research proposals should cover, such as the integration of the tunnel detection system data output with existing command-and-control systems along the borders. The BAA specified that DHS seeks to incorporate the tunnel detection information with other systems via data fusion technology.

The directorate also hinted that its interest in tunnel detection could prompt additional research funding projects. "A potential long-range DHS [Science and Technology Directorate] solicitation will help further development such as in mission-planning software, high-level data fusion with other data streams and modeling of near-surface phenomenology to improve sensor performance," the agency announcement said.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's affiliate publication, Government Computer News.

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