CBP Taking Time Examining Bids for Integrated Fixed Towers for SW Border

Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) big, new, post-Secure Border Initiative (SBInet) program, the Integrated Fixed Tower (IFT) sensor initiative, is a multi-million dollar effort to monitor Border Patrol’s gaps along the southern border by "provid[ing] automated, persistent wide area surveillance for the detection, tracking, identification and classification of illegal border incursions between ports of entry."

CBP has budgeted $91.8 million in its fiscal year 2013 budget request for the IFT program, which apparently is a winner-take-all competition CBP intends to take its time making a decision about. The Request for Proposal was issued in April.

[Editor’s note: For more on new border security technologies, see Homeland Security Today’s new Leading Edge Today special report on the border]

An outgrowth of the ill-fated SBInet, a controversy-ridden program that was cancelled in January 2011 due to cost overruns and schedule delays, the IFT initiative is supposed to leverage the lessons learned from SBInet specifically by pursuing a non-developmental system procurement approach and opting for a fixed-price contract. It’s one of two big, pending CBP contracts. The other is for remote video surveillance systems for the southwest border.

But unlike the former contract – which CBP officials have indicated could be awarded within the next month – CBP has indicated that it will likely take longer to award its IFT contract because of the number of bids it received that the agency has just begun to evaluate.

Short staffed, but wanting to thoroughly contemplate the IFT RFP responses, Mark Borkowski, CBP Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition (OTIA), implied at a recent congressional hearing that an IFT contract announcement could be three or more months down the road.

If the agency’s “fully-integrated, non-developmental IFT systems” works as envisioned, Border Patrol agents will have greatly expanded capabilities to remotely sense, detect and even to distinguish between who or what is crossing the nation’s borders.

The IFT systems will consist of surveillance equipment (e.g., ground surveillance radars and surveillance cameras) mounted on fixed (i.e., stationary) tower(s); all necessary power generation and communications equipment to support these tower sites; and command and control (C2) center equipment (including one or more operator workstations) that are capable of displaying information received from surveillance towers on a common operating picture (COP).

Developed by CBP’s Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition to “encompass open system architecture,” the undisputed high stakes April Secure Border Initiative Acquisition Office IFT contract solicitation explained that “the IFT procurement is one element of a broader CBP strategy to rapidly acquire non-developmental (and ideally commercially available) systems to support border protection efforts.”

The IFT program incorporates valuable lessons learned from the ill-fated SBInet effort, CBP said, including abandonment of developing a “one size fits all” solution in favor of procuring commercially available technologies for a firm fixed-price vehicle. The agency also has taken the added step of specifying that respondents to the RFP demonstrate the performance of their proposed system during the source selection process, and are also being proactive in finalizing the sensor site locations and ensuring that the required environmental reviews and approvals are completed prior to contract award.

Indeed. At the March, 2011 hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, "After SBInet – the Future of Technology on the Border,”CBP Office of Technology, Innovation and Acquistion Assistant Commissioner Borkowski stated in joint testimony with Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher and CBP Office of Air and Marine Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik, that “to assess the cost-effectiveness of SBInet,”the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “conducted an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA).”

“In the AoA,” the three CBP officials jointly explained, “DHS quantified relative effectiveness and relative costs of various technology solutions, and compared these measures for each option. The results of the AoA showed that the selection of technology for a given area of the border is highly dependent on the nature of that area (e.g., terrain, population density). Therefore, the SBInet concept of a ‘one size fits all’ solution is not appropriate across the entire border. In fact, the AoA suggested that the optimal technology deployment strategy would involve a mix of technologies tailored to each area of the border and based on the operational judgment of the experienced Border Patrol agents deployed in that area.”

Continuing, the trio said “after completion of the AoA, CBP used the results to develop a detailed technology deployment plan for different border regions across Arizona based on current and anticipated operational activity. Accordingly, the new plan incorporates both the quantitative analysis of science and engineering experts and the real-world operational assessment of agents on the ground and in the air.”

“The new border security technology plan,” the three said, “will utilize existing, proven technology tailored to the distinct terrain and population density of each border region, including commercially available Mobile Surveillance Systems (MSSs), Unmanned Aircraft Systems, thermal imaging devices and tower-based Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS). Where appropriate, this technology plan will also include elements of the former SBInet program that have proven successful, such as stationary radar and infrared and optical sensor towers.”

“This new technology plan will provide better coverage of the border, a more effective balance between cost and capability tailored to each area of the border, faster deployment of technology, more continuous and extensive surveillance of the Southwest border and better linkage between operations and technology,” they explained, adding, “Through investments in portable technology, the new plan provides flexible capabilities that will enable the Border Patrol to move and adapt to evolving threats.”

“Based on the Border Patrol’s assessment of priority needs and the department’s 2011 and 2012 budget requests, the department intends to initiate procurements for the Remote Video Surveillance Systems and cameras, thermal imaging systems, Agent-Portable Surveillance Systems, imaging sensors, Unattended Ground Sensors and Mobile Video Surveillance Systems in fiscal year 2011, with deliveries scheduled between 2011 and 2012. The integrated fixed towers will follow starting with procurements in early fiscal year 2012,” the three said, emphasizing that, “Going forward, the department will conduct full and open competition for all elements of the new technology plan.”

According to CBP’s RFP, initial deployment of the IFT System will be in Border Patrol’s Nogales Area of Responsibility (AoR) — a region of Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector that has been plagued by the illicit cross-border activities of Mexican-based transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) like the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels. It’s also the area where Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie was gunned down Oct. 2, 2012, where special operations agent Brian Terry was killed the evening of Dec. 14, 2010, and where local Nogales, Ariz. law enforcement officers who’ve stumbled across narco-smugglers have been shot at and subsequently threatened with death by the Gulf Cartel, according to intelligence derived by both the Nogales Police Department and US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Five additional AoRs may be deployed, for a maximum of six BPS AoRs, within Arizona. The period of performance of the IFT contract, if all options are exercised — including the sustainment effort — is anticipated to be eight years and six months after the contract’s award.

As Borkowski, Fisher and Kostelnik outlined early last year, “The FY 2012 President’s Budget request will allow for the deployment of Integrated Fixed Towers to Nogales, Douglas and Casa Grande [Border Patrol] Stations, and thesenew resources, combined with the FY 2011 funding, will allow CBP to fully complete three out of five border areas in Arizona.”

“The FY 2013 budget supports the continued deployment of proven, effective surveillance technology along the highest trafficked areas of the southwest border and will allow CBP to deploy a mix of IFTs in Arizona and further strengthen border security,” Borkowski, Fisher, Kostelnik and Office of Field Operations Acting Assistant Commissioner Kevin McAleenan jointly told the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security hearing on the President’s FY 2013 budget request for CBP.

Congressional concerns

The Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12) House Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Report had noted that the committee “has consistently directed that CBP employ a comprehensive strategy for achieving operational control of the border, including identifying and utilizing the right mix of people, infrastructure and technology.” Therefore, the committee “direct[ed] CBP to continue its quarterly briefings associated with its strategy for BSFIT funds in the context of its overall border security mission and assets.”

Repeatedly questioned about the IFT program’s direction and criticized for its less than stellar shove-off, both CBP’s 2009-2014 Strategic Plan and Border Patrol’s new 2012-2016 national strategy emphasized that CBP must establish and maintain effective control of air, land and maritime borders through the use of the appropriate mix of infrastructure, technology and personnel.

In August, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, wrote that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “does not use the necessary tools to ensure rigorous oversight of its acquisition programs, including those managed by its component agencies. Specifically, the manner in which DHS manages its acquisition investments has been flawed.”

The conference report added that “the procurement should take place through a full and open competition, which the department asserts will result in swift deployment of additional integrated fixed tower systems. The facts are contrary to this assertion. It took four years of painstaking work with the SBInet system for the Border Patrol to state that the system is working and has borne successes. Further, the department acknowledges that integrated fixed tower systems are not a commoditized asset. Additionally, the requirements for an integrated fixed tower system include integration of assets into a ‘common operating picture,’ something that CBP will now have to undertake itself.”

The report further noted that “it is unclear how the department’s acquisition approach for additional integrated fixed tower systems fits with the premise of the Arizona Border Technology Plan, namely to procure and deploy off-the-shelf technology for an intended immediate benefit. As a result of this concern, as well as anticipation of procurement delays, the committee has reduced the funds available for this activity. Further, the committee directs CBP to include in its detailed expenditure plan for fiscal year 2012 as well as its multi-year investment and management plan for fiscal years 2013–2016 and thereafter, the rationale for its approach.”

As a result, in its RFP, CBP said the “IFT program has taken many positive steps that should provide a firm foundation for successfully delivering the needed capability; however, a better indication of the direction the program is taking will come after the RFP is released and the contract is awarded. As a result of this approach, CBP’s CIO assessed the IFT program as Medium Risk.”

Persistent border surveillance

CBP and Border Patrol believe the IFT concept addresses not only Congress’ concerns, but the technological components necessary to keep the border under a constant watchful eye as a result of the lessons learned from the botched SBINet initiative.

According to CBP documents, a segment of the border between Ports of Entry (PoE) is considered under effective control when CBP can simultaneously and consistently achieve the following: detect illegal entries into the United States, identify and classify these entries to determine the level of the threat, efficiently and effectively respond to these entries and bring each event to a satisfactory law enforcement resolution.

Consequently, persistent surveillance is the critical capability – the lynchpin, if you will — that CBP must have in place and in operating order to establish and maintain control of the nation’s border. Long range persistent surveillance enables CBP to efficiently and effectively manage rural and remote areas of interest.

Accordingly, CBP says it is leveraging mobile surveillance capabilities to the greatest extent possible because of the ability to redeploy these resources as border threats change the routes they use along the border to conduct their criminal enterprises.

However, CBP noted that these systems can only be deployed where sufficient road infrastructure exists and land mobile voice communications are reliable. In threat areas where mobile surveillance systems cannot be a viable and/or long term solution, IFTs equipped with sensor suites and communication equipment can be deployed to provide automated, persistent wide area surveillance for the detection, tracking, identification and classification of illegal entries.

When multiple IFT units are integrated into a system with a COP, Border Patrol will be able to increase its border situational awareness and to monitor a larger area of interest. With an IFT system, a single COP operator can maintain persistent surveillance over a large area, whereas previously, multiple Border Patrol agents exposed to threats were required to provide coverage in the same amount of area. This will contribute to agent safety.

IFTs are not dependent on any other OTIA program. IFTs, along with other surveillance systems already deployed along the border, will collectively and dependently fulfill the CBP 2009-2014 strategic plans.

“The technology combines with other resources and capabilities, notably personnel, infrastructure and intelligence, to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of our border protection efforts,” Border Patrol’s new five-year 2012-2016 national strategy,” stated.

Making good on delivery – ‘there won’t be any hand-holding’

With the bad taste of SBInet still lingering, CBP stated “whoever is awarded the FFP single award contract will be responsible for building, installing and testing the IFT system in each Border Patrol Station (BPS) AoR identified in the contract no later than 12 months after the contract is awarded (for the base quantity) and no later than 12 months after exercising an Option for all AoR Option quantities.

Following CBP’s acceptance of the system within each BPS AoR and the exercise of a Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) option, CLS will commence. As part of the CLS, the winner of the IFT contract “shall maintain the IFT system in each BPS AoR identified in the contract line item options, when these options are exercised under the IFT contract.”

And, in keeping with the IFT RFP’s requirement that respondents to the RFP demonstrate the performance of their proposed system during the source selection process, and to be proactive in finalizing the sensor site locations and ensuring that the required environmental reviews and approvals are completed prior to contract award, potential awardees have been doing just that.

An official of EADS North America – which has teamed with General Dynamics to bid for the IFT contract — told Homeland Security Today at Border Security Expo in Phoenix earlier this year that EADS has actively demonstrated for CBP and Border Patrol its Spexer security radar for large perimeter and border surveillance. The Spexer series of radars provide unique ground-level sensing capabilities that EADS originally developed specifically for military border surveillance applications.

The technology can distinguish between animals and humans, and vehicles and ground clutter, according to the EADS official, seemingly making this sort of technology that will make up the IFT sensor arrays precisely what the doctor – in this case, CBP — is looking for.

As Borkowski has made quite clear, the companies bidding on the IFT contract “get it.” They understand that CBP wants technology that’s basically plug-and-play – technology that will perform as expected right out of the box.

However, because of both funding and congressional concerns, CBP most likely is to select a single contractor who is immediately capable of providing and “out-of-the-box” single IFT configuration, he’s said … and, which, he’s also indicated, could result in protests of a single contractor award, which is something agency officials said they anticipate. CBP officials have said the IFT contract must be a “totality of performance” solution. Case closed.

Consequently, a single contractor award has resulted in the pairing of relationships like that between EADS and General Dynamics. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, FLIR Corp., L-3 STRATIS, Elbit Systems of America and Telephonics also have all announced that they’ve submitted proposals for the IFT contract, and most, according to industry insiders, have already reached out to companies to partner with or who would serve as subcontractors.

For instance, Telephonics Corporation has entered into “strategic partnership with logistics and infrastructure support contractors” to introduce its Radar and Video Enforcement Network (RaVEN) to CBP as a fully compliant solution to the IFT requirements.

“RaVEN will provide Border Patrol agents with a robust, user-friendly product that will enhance situational awareness and a unified picture of US Borders,” Telephonics said in an announcement, adding, “CBP’s familiarity with the [RaVEN] systems … will ensure a rapid execution of the first phase of the Arizona Southwest Border Initiative.”

“We are very pleased with the team that has come together and the capability that RaVEN will deliver to US Border Patrol Agents,” said Telephonics Corporation President and CEO, Joseph Battaglia, “With RaVEN, we will greatly enhance the safety and detection capabilities of CBP with this outstanding new integrated solution.”

Similarly, the Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions Civil team is actively seeking candidates to support its quest for the IFT program contract.

Other primary contenders are doing the same, according to industry insiders.

As Kurt Guth, CBP’s Director of Systems Engineering, has publicly made no bones about saying, the IFT competition is a virtual “winner-take-all” proposition.

Not without risks – ‘but we’ve got it covered’

CBP acknowledges that there are risks and issues with its Integrated Fixed Tower sensor array program. As the agency has said, “challenges remain concerning locating and maintaining in-place towers and associated surveillance technologies.”

The risks identified by the program are:

  • If new tower sites are selected for IFT (i.e., moved away from sites selected as part of SBInet), then the resulting environmental review process may impact schedule;
  • If land is needed to support tower construction, then the land acquisition process may impact schedule; and,
  • If the correct mix of staffing/skills is not available to support the project, then quality and timeliness of work will suffer, resulting in impacts to cost and schedule.

CBP, though, has “mitigation strategies in place to address the three risks identified. They are:

  • Leverage site selection and environmental work done as part of the SBInet program, conduct site-specific environmental analysis in parallel to source selection, and conduct early coordination with the Department of the Interior and other environmental stakeholders;
  • Leverage real estate work done as part of the SBInet program and ensure close coordination with the environmental review process; and
  • Determine deployment management staffing needs and augment the existing Southwest field office.

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Top photo: Fixed sensor towers are another element in the technology deployment across the Arizona border that provides vital support for Border Patrol agents as they monitor both fenced and non-fenced sections of the border. Photo by Donna Burton.

Next photo: A mobile tower provides heightened visibility for Border Patrol agents in remote areas along the border in Arizona. Photo by Donna Burton.

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