A Jordanian solution for SBInet replacement?

Published 7 April 2011

After spending nearly $1 billion dollars and five years on the now defunct virtual border fence project known as SBInet, DHS is still actively seeking to build a high tech virtual border along the southern border; this time, DHS is determined to purchase technology that meets performance standards and is delivered on time and at cost; DHS hopes to invest an additional $750 million to purchase mature sensor and surveillance technology; to ensure the project’s success, DHS is exploring off the shelf projects that can “plug and play” with hardware and software from other suppliers; contracts will be terminated if they are delivered late, fail to meet performance standards, or are over initial costs projections

After spending nearly $1 billion dollars and five years on the now defunct virtual border fence project known as SBInet, DHS is still actively seeking to build a high tech virtual border along the southern border. But this time, DHS is determined to purchase technology that meets performance standards and is delivered on time and at cost.

Boeing, the primary contractor for SBInet, implemented a sophisticated series of towers mounted with surveillance cameras, radar, and ground sensors along fifty-three miles of the border. The project was eventually cancelled due to delays, cost overruns, and a failure to meet project requirements.

Building off Boeing’s existing network, DHS hopes to invest an additional $750 million to purchase mature sensor and surveillance technology to install along the U.S.– Mexico border.

To complete the virtual fence, DHS recently issued strict new requirements for the project and opened competition for contracts.

 

According to Mark Borkowski, the assistant commissioner for the Office of Technology, Innovation, and Acquisition at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the new border fence will not suffer the same fate as SBInet.

Speaking to defense company representatives at an event in Phoenix last February, Borkowski said DHS will maintain strict oversight over the project. If the technology does not perform exactly as promised by the company, is more expensive than initially agreed upon, or is late, DHS “will terminate you for default.”

 

He added, “If you don’t know what it costs, then you’re not ready to sell us.”

In an effort to minimize costs and complexity, DHS sent a request for information to the defense industry stating that it is primarily exploring off the shelf projects that can “plug and play” with hardware and software from other suppliers “without additional integration costs or any additional involvement from the original equipment manufacturer(s).”

Borkowski emphasized this fact, stating CBP is seeking technology solutions “that are producible right away. We’re not going to get involved in development—they need to commit that they are producible right at the time we award the contract.”

DRS Technologies, which recently provided Jordan with a virtual border surveillance system, hopes to win the new virtual border fence contract.

In 2009, DRS built a network of ground surveillance radars and video cameras that were all routed into a central command station in Jordan. This system is similar to what the U.S. is seeking to implement along its southern border.

Jordan is in the final stages of awarding DRS an additional contract to expand the fence.

Jim Hynes, the executive director for DHS and Force Protection Systems at DRS, said, “We designed [the Jordanian system] as an architecture that can be incrementally applied to the entire border region.”

Now, DRS is trying to determine “how do we leverage [the Jordanian system] and provide the U.S. government with a similar capability” along the Mexican border.

The task may not be too difficult as DRS has already installed its radar and camera clusters on tall fixed towers as well as mobile platforms and trailers, similar to what SBInet has in existence.

Other competitors include FLIR Systems Inc., which has already been awarded a $100 million dollar contract to build mobile surveillance systems, Raytheon, and Boeing.

Raytheon is pushing its Clear View system, which is similar to existing SBInet technology with its suite of cameras, sensors, and tracking software. Boeing has also said that it could supply its existing towers at lower costs and remains committed to providing technology for the border.

DHS is rapidly moving ahead with the contracting process, and according to Borkowski hopes to award contracts for the truck-mounted mobile sensor surveillance system “by middle to late this year.”

He says that CBP plans to award contracts for everything except the integrated fixed tower system to be purchased in fiscal year 2011. The towers are scheduled to be purchased in fiscal year 2012, and CBP hopes that the entire system will be operational by 2013.

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