Boeing readies next SBInet sections

The Homeland Security Department's SBInet border surveillance system is preparing to move into its next phase. Two permanent segments in Arizona are likely to be operating as early as December, according to DHS and Boeing Co. officials.

The new segments, Tucson-1 and Ajo-1, together span 53 miles of the border between Arizona and Mexico. They represent the first permanent operational installations of the anticipated $30 billion Secure Border Initiative Network virtual fence system, composed of cameras, radars and sensors, which is to eventually span the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada.

Deployment of both projects is part of the Arizona Deployment Task Order Phase I contract expected to be awarded in several weeks, said Russ Knocke, DHS deputy assistant secretary of public affairs.

"We expect that the projects would be in the field by the end of this calendar year," Knocke said.

Tucson-1, covering 23 miles near Sasabe, Ariz., will involve towers and other equipment and infrastructure.

Ajo-1, covering 30 miles, is also in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. "Ajo-1 will demonstrate system integration, deployment and operational capabilities, including an advanced common operating picture," Knocke said.

Task orders for the design of the two new segments were awarded to prime contractor Boeing Co. in August 2007, Knocke said. The amounts of those task orders are still under negotiation, he added.

SBInet has been controversial in Congress because of technology problems, delays and privacy concerns of property owners along the border. But the Bush Administration is defending work thus far and has asked for $775 million for the project in fiscal 2009.

DHS and Boeing officials said they are building on their experience installing the $20 million Project 28 prototype phase of SBInet now operating on mobile towers in Arizona.

Awarded in September 2006, Project 28 received final acceptance from Customs and Border Protection in February 2008.

"Through Project 28, we have learned a lot of lessons, both technical and interpersonal," said John Chenevey, Boeing's SBInet project manager. Boeing managers are consulting border patrol agents and DHS project managers at every step of the next phase, he added.

"Project 28 has acted as a force multiplier in an area where the Border Patrol had limited surveillance capability before, and it has increased overall operational effectiveness in the area as a result. We anticipate that Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 deployments will also add significant value for the Border Patrol," Knocke said.

The systems to be installed in Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 are being designed, integrated and tested in the Boeing laboratories in Crystal City, Va., and Mesa, Ariz., with input from Border Patrol agents, said Wayne Esser, Boeing's director of strategic development for SBInet.

"We are getting a tremendous amount of agent input at the lab and in workshops for rapid application development," Esser said. The agents visit the lab for two or three days at a time, he added.

The department also awarded Boeing a $64.5 million task order to update the Common Operating Picture. That situational awareness application allows Border Patrol agents to obtain a comprehensive view of activities in the field.

Tucson-1 will cover roughly the same territory as the Project 28 prototype currently operating along 28 miles in the desert. Tucson-1 will replace Project 28 with permanent towers and updated sensors, communications and the Common Operating Picture. Project 28 will continue to operate until Tucson-1 is in place and operational, Esser said.

Boeing intends to complete design and testing by July and installation by December.

Boeing officials also addressed criticism of the seven-month delay in Project 28. The Government Accountability Office cited lack of sufficient user input and failure to meet all user needs as additional concerns in February. However, DHS officials said Project 28 was within budget and met the terms of the contract. As for user input, DHS and Boeing officials have testified to Congress about the degree of user participation.

Boeing officials acknowledged that problems arose when commercial technology failed to perform as expected. Boeing also ran into trouble because it did the Project 28 integration in the field rather than in a lab, Esser said.

"We identified technical deficiencies in June 2007. Some of these were serious enough that the government delayed acceptance," Knocke said. "The department held Boeing accountable for performance to the contract. Boeing stepped up and fixed the deficiencies at no additional cost to the government. "

Roger Krone, Boeing's president of Network and Space Systems, the division overseeing SBInet, testified to Congress Feb. 27 that Boeing spent more than $40 million building Project 28, more than twice the $20 million it was paid for the work.

Summing up, Esser said Boeing built the Project 28 prototype it had proposed to meet the contract specifications.

"We built what we had proposed," Esser said, summing up Project 28. "Eventually, we worked out the technical glitches and added some features that the Border Patrol asked for. Now the system is working 24/7."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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