Goodbye SBInet, hello Integrated Fixed Tower system?

DHS seeks vendor input on new border protection technology

The Homeland Security Department is setting the stage to acquire next-generation border surveillance technologies with an invitation to vendors to describe their latest solutions.

The newly proposed Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) acquisition program — which is still in the planning phase -- appears to have some features in common with the recently canceled Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) border surveillance system, which was comprised of integrated systems mounted on towers.

In a Request for Information addressed to vendors on Jan. 18 , DHS’ U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said it is seeking commercial off-the-shelf solutions “for deployment at fixed, elevated sites, hereafter referred to as Integrated Fixed Towers, that would provide automated, persistent wide area surveillance for the detection, tracking, identification, and classification of illegal entries. The capability sought would provide additional situational awareness and will allow CBP to more efficiently and effectively respond to border incursions where deployed.”

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

The IFT system also must include a common operating picture to integrate information on a single screen for an operator. The SBInet system also had one or more common operating pictures.

Some experts have characterized the IFT approach as following the same path as the doomed SBInet system, according to a NextGov story.

CBP described the IFT request as open-ended, and said it has not made a commitment to building the integrated fixed towers or buying any solutions.

SBInet was initially conceived in 2005 to bring integrated cameras and sensors to the entire United States-Mexico land border. The contract was awarded to Boeing Co. in September 2006 and a 28-mile prototype began operating in February 2008. Construction on a 53-mile permanent segment is nearing completion.

However, SBInet has been plagued by cost overruns, delays, technical glitches, user complaints and management problems.

On Jan. 14, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano canceled the remainder of SBInet after a year-long reassessment. The existing 53-mile segment will remain in operation in Arizona while future development will be halted and alternative solutions will be deployed in the nine sectors along the remainder of the U.S.-Mexico border to fit terrain in each sector, she said.

The RFI provides a number of details on the requirements of the system, including listing the types of objects to be detected and specifying that the system must operate under adverse weather conditions.

The agency, in an addendum on Jan. 25, said it anticipates awarding a competitive contract for the Integrated Fixed Towers under a contract that is separate from the SBInet contract.


About the Author

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

Reader Comments

Tue, May 24, 2011

Another government program is about to run amok. This is why we are going broke there is not common sense in Washington. Certainly we have a lot of qualified pilots looking for work. I would prefer eyes in the sky to asses in the sand.

Fri, Jan 28, 2011

As a very distant observer of the capabilities of the Boeing SBInet software applications, the system WOULD HAVE PERFORMED if the proper management,systems integration and quality assurance/quality control had been fully implemented, and funds where provided for a complete staff, materials and resources to support all 53 miles. Those with project experience know how much support, and resources, it takes just to build one mile of "anything". The project of that magnitude was underestimated and underfunded from the "git-go"...especially when R&D was not completed before the design-build phase and had to be included as part of the continuing design process! Sometimes a $1 million dollar price tag per mile average is not always enough when a project is not properly "Ramped-Up". Now, when the towers are built, what type of balistic material fence will need to be built to protect the construction and installation workers on the ground, and the pole climbers in the air from possible border snipers? I shudder!

Fri, Jan 28, 2011 Anon Reston, VA

Unfortunately, if a large integrator is involved, it will become another SBINet. Large Integrators with all of their six-sigma, CMMi best practices are great for integrated weapons systems which cost 1 M+ per platform. But something like this system, I can design, build and deploy in my sleep. Sure there are advanced surveillance systems being deployed, but they don't need to be as tightly integrated as what you have in FCS or JSF. The gov't should be doing this work internally, taking the role of the prime, hiring and managing engineers and construction companies to do the work. It's not rocket science. Really, the only difficult piece is the communications ... but I've deployed a lot of comms in difficult areas. This shouldn't be a multi-billion dollar job. It should be more like a billion (or even less) job. Think about it. It's 1200 miles? Even if you spent a million per mile, it would total 1.2 B. Which is why this program is so outrageous. And they don't need to deploy a bunch of predators, only for really remote areas. You can use inexpensive fixed wing aircraft with a good GPS, SAR and FLIR on it that can be flown by a pilot, but the sensors can be controlled remotely. It's true you won't get an on-station endurance of 30 hours, but you can do this in order to get something like it... Then instead of just having guys on the ground, there needs to be a rapid airborne force that can deploy anywhere along that border within an hour for interdictions as needed. Like a special ops for border security. These guys need to be trained military or ex-military.

Fri, Jan 28, 2011 Observer IV District of Columbia

Taxpayers and Congress and OMB should demand that Boeing be barred from bidding. If allowed to bid, its past performances on the border need to be taken into account with a heavy scoring weight.

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