While attending a recent homeland security related industry conference, several organizations, agencies and private-industry entities outlined their ideas and solutions on how best to secure our nation’s borders through new business processes and application of technology.
Whether they are physical or virtual, “gates, guards and guns” have long been, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a foundation of our national defense concept. While I applaud the efforts of all these outstanding organizations, what I realized was that a critical common theme was presenting itself. And that is the assumption that effective border security relies on information and data generated or captured by specific border security organizations through their own intelligence or surveillance.
But what happens in a scenario when a threat is identified external to the border security organizations, perhaps by a defense unit? In this scenario, is there a single, perpetuating stream of information exchange that allows for seamless, immediate, near-real time transfer of operational responsibility?
As a child, I grew up understanding that in order for me to successfully ride my bicycle, I needed to maintain balance and have a stable platform, regardless of the terrain. Keeping the tires properly inflated and ensuring tension was consistent across all the spokes minimized forces outside my own equilibrium from affecting the quality of the “ride.” Physics tells us that at a given moment, the weight of the bike and the rider is supported by a concentration of only a few spokes.
While riding, the responsibility of maintaining support quickly moves from spoke to spoke as the wheel rotates, creating an instantaneous exchange of responsibility between spokes. However, instead of individual transfers of weight, the entire operation relies on the hub through which all spokes are connected. That infers that the spokes near the top ofwheel also play an important role in keeping the wheel strong and round. The simple “best practice” of maintaining consistent torque and tension on the spokes, along with proper air pressure in the tires, provides a higher level of balance and stability when riding a bike. Can we use this childhood analogy for homeland security?
At the aforementioned conference, I was reminded that our homeland security is comprised of a multitude of “spokes.” And while the objectives of each organization’s mission may vary, we can insinuate that the need for information is the critical common component that each of our security spokes leverages to accomplish its individual mission.
Many concepts were highlighted that require the exchange of information. In the case where threats are moving from well outside our borders into the “homeland,” would we not want to have the capability to seamlessly monitor those threats regardless of the proximity to our borders or the mode in which they are being carried out? In essence, if the theater of operations transcends our borders, we should engage common processes and technologies that align to this concept. An example is leveraging Tactical Data Link-16, but the concepts contained herein are not solely limited to only Link-16.
Link-16 provides the capability for our military and our allies to exchange data related to the tactical situation. Link-16 allows air, maritime and land forces to share a common communication. Some of our allies are, or are planning, to leverage Link-16 in their own border security through air and maritime patrols. If the various components of the US Defense Department are leveraging technology such as Link-16 as a critical information exchange method — and are collecting and sharing that data amongst themselves and are allies — what happens when the threat is identified or moves closer to our physical border?
Defense components should be just a subset (albeit a very vital subset) of the spokes on our homeland security wheel. Perhaps a layered approach to border security involving the armed forces, US Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and other federal intelligence and law enforcement organizations are all spokes in the border security wheel.
While I’m not including state and municipal entities in this discussion, they would be a natural expansion of the wheel as threats are isolated — but they would most likely be engaged only after a threat transcends our physical borders. As threats “roll” toward the US, the hub of information generated by Link-16 (or similar concept) could begin the exchange of data necessary to “hand-off” the containment to the next “spoke” as necessary.
However, threats aren’t eager to identify themselves at long distances in order to foster the clean, sequential nature of the layered approach. If the Coast Guard, or CBP air or maritime patrols identify a new threat, they then become that critical spoke in the wheel. CPB operates a rather large fleet of P-3 Orion aircraft, as does the US Navy and several international governments. As a specialized maritime patrol platform, upgraded Navy P-3’s include Link-16 and other critical systems that foster the immediate sharing of tactical information and situational awareness necessary to employ a necessary response to a threat.
Most understand that information is a key to situational awareness, and that information exchange is a two-party process with a two-way flow. We should leverage our military systems, tools, processes, etc. as already developed assets for the civilian security and intelligence organizations — which although they may be riding on different terrain, they share the same objective in identifying and neutralizing threats to the homeland.
Jeff Myers is client executive at Array Information Technology responsible for operational execution and delivery across a portfolio of defense-related programs. Myers is focused on international/cross-border initiatives which support cargo and passenger related programs related to balancing trade security and efficiency. He is the practice leader for a new business service offering focused on integrating disparate acquisitions across a nations’ defense enterprise.