A Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) in Rio Grande City, Texas, low-level airborne ground surveillance system that uses aerostats (moored balloons) as radar platforms. (Donna Burton/CBP)

PERSPECTIVE: The Complexity of Modeling Border Security Operational Space

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In the recent Modeling the Impact of Border-Enforcement Measures report published by RAND and quoted by HSToday the authors state that DHS is faced with two major challenges related to determining the effectiveness of border security enforcement measures: 1) deciding which metrics to employ, and 2) establishing a causal connection between the metrics and the enforcement measure. While the report discusses at length the difficulty of establishing metrics and the serious limitations of employing apprehension data as a metric, the report also goes on to attempt to establish a causal connection between specific technologies by using apprehensions as the sole metric. That, in our opinion, will ultimately fail to produce relevant key findings.

Effectiveness of a particular surveillance technology in conjunction with its cost has always been a key factor in selection for award and deployment. Thorough performance specification acceptance tests are normally used to close contract milestones for programs of record. Beyond that, evaluation of the effects of the deployment of a particular technical solution is very complicated. In simple terms, once effective technology, personnel, infrastructure and targeted enforcement programs are in place and fully implemented, deployed, and result in an increased number of apprehensions, the human and drug smuggler organizations adjust their tactics. Hence, while the initial spike in the number of apprehensions may go down, it is often likely to be more a result of a threat migrating to another area and can’t be directly or solely attributed to an advantage of or serve as a measure of effectiveness for any specific technology.

When looking at the effectiveness of Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs) vs. other technologies one must also consider the terrain and operational environment where the technology is being employed. As an example, though the statement made in the report regarding the fact that Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) has no radar is accurate, RVSS is generally deployed near border fencing and lights and in areas where radar wouldn’t be effective. The report’s speculation that the lack of height of an RVSS might diminish its deterrent impact, when the RVSS is at the border and in support of very visible enforcement assets and infrastructure, lacks credibility. Beyond that, while the effectiveness of the tall IFT towers with long-range radar and cameras may be exactly what is needed in the desert regions of Tucson and El Paso, they would have serious limitations in regions with heavy vegetation, such as south Texas. That is the very reason the CBP is looking at a variety of different technologies offering a range of capabilities. While the expense of IFTs will pay off well in open terrain (when supported by a number of additional technologies and supporting measures), such an expense for long-range surveillance in an area where you can only see a couple of miles would be an inappropriate use of limited funding.

As a result of the evolving security architecture approach that CBP has been investing in and successfully implementing for many years, data collection today is enabled through a variety of modern sensors, software solutions and system integration approaches that make the current system, in combination with physical barriers and related infrastructure, very effective across the vast and highly diverse northern and southern borders. It has always been well understood that the almost 6,000 miles of different geography, terrain and threats necessitate different methods of detection, tracking and response CONOPS and systems. Among the many technologies and tools that CBP is using effectively – COP, RVSS, MVSS, IFT, TARS, smart fence, MSC, border wall, large UAS, sUAS, etc. – each plays an important role in support of the overall Border Patrol mission of operational control, sometimes helping to mitigate a particular threat or to close a unique capability gap for a particular sector or station along the border.

In addition, multiple dynamic phenomena, domestic and international in origin, that often influence illegal flows appear to be overlooked. Instead, the report compares the effects of specific and very different technologies operating not only in different terrain but also in areas that are impacted very differently by geopolitical and socioeconomic factors that continue to unfold and evolve.

The report ultimately claims that the quasi-experimental statistical methods it employed to measure the effectiveness of the technologies discussed hold promise for helping DHS to understand and measure the effects of border enforcement measures. In our opinion, the limitations noted in the report, coupled with the lack of more than one set of data (apprehensions), and the attempt to compare specific technologies against one another across highly varying operational environments brings the validity and resulting usefulness of the study into question.

Based on our experience and communications with former and current DHS leadership, reaching those conclusions without first exploring and understanding the complete operational space and full enforcement suite deployed in each AOR does not have a solid scientific and technical basis. It is possible, though, that if a study could include a broader and more appropriate set of metrics. Those metrics could be combined and traded against a more representative set of enforcement activities, while also modeling the push, pull, varying tactics and levels of determination demonstrated by the illegal entrants and organizations. If implemented, the study might come closer to informing DHS leadership as to what efforts, or combinations of efforts, technological and doctrinal, are most effective.

Wayne Esser and Ilia Rosenberg, members of Blue Ocean Advisory Group have served in leadership positions for several DHS and DoD programs of record and led analysis of alternatives for DHS CBP.  Presently their consulting practice provides business development and technical support for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) solutions for homeland security, and defense applications domestically and worldwide. Wayne received the 2019 Statesman award from the Security Industry Association.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Ilia Rosenberg, Managing Director, is an executive with a track record of delivering strong results across a wide range of functions, geographies, and business models. In his current role as Managing Director for Blue Ocean Advisory Group and ISR GeoSensing he is responsible for managing programs related to national defense, security and energy sectors and responsible for leading our Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning practice. In 2016-2019 he was VP Programs at a Silicon Valley AI company Cogniac where he was leading technical developments and commercial negotiations with a variety of gov’t and private customers and successfully placed Cogniac AI technology within DoD and intelligence community. In 2011-2015 he served as Chief Technologist for AGT International Global Delivery Organization in its Headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland leading the worldwide engineering team to assure effective development of new products and creative solutions for Smart and Safe Cities and Smart Borders programs. Before joining AGT International in 2011, Ilia Rosenberg served as the Director of Technology Assessment for the Boeing Company Security Solutions division in Arlington, VA. Before joining Boeing he worked in the field of atmospherical physics and completed his postdoctoral studies at the Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. He published extensively in the peer review journals and his projects were covered by the New York Times, Time Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, New Scientist, The BBC, Discovery Channel, and Washington Technology.

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Wayne Esser, Founder and Managing Partner for Blue Ocean Advisory Group, LLC, has over 35 years of success in Federal contracting. He formed Blue Ocean in February of 2019 to provide advisory services in the areas of management and strategy development, capture and proposal development and technology use as well as consulting on strategic growth. Prior to Blue Ocean, Mr. Esser was President of Chenega Security International were he started and ran the Electronic Security Systems line of business since 2013. Mr. Esser had been with Thales Security and Defense since 2008 as V.P. Homeland Security. He was responsible for the development and execution of a strategy to establish Thales in the U.S. Homeland Security market. Before retiring from Boeing in September 2008 Mr. Esser was director, Boeing Security Solutions on the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet), for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. He was also the capture manager for the SBInet program, one of the largest contracts awarded by the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Esser has been in homeland security since 9/11 starting with DHS’s Explosive Detection System deployment as a member of the program management team for Boeing. His earlier career includes management of Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs.

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