We’ve been waiting since October for Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano to make a decision on the fate of SBInet, the Boeing-designed suite of cameras, ground sensors and radar systems that provide real-time, streaming intel to American border patrol officers standing watch over the U.S./Mexican border.
The program has cost $1.2 billion since 2006—with $800 million of that going to SBInet technologies, and the rest to road grading and fencing along the border—with only 53 mi. of the Arizona border having been covered by the gear. This led Napolitano to order a freeze on the program pending a top-to-bottom review in February, with orders for Customs and Border Protection to report back to her in October with their assessment of where the program stands, and where it can feasibly go in the near term.
While the October deadline was met, we still don’t know what the secretary’s decision is.
With many observers betting that the SBInet program won’t survive—despite the fact that agents in the field love the gear, as I reported in the November DTI—competitors are starting to enter the arena to fill the gaps in border security.
One contender is Raytheon’s Clear View, which a Raytheon representative says is essentially “a command and control system that manages situational awareness.” Designed as a modular system that can “plug and play” with a variety of other data systems, Clear View allows cameras and sensors to track moving objects automatically while storing the information for later use, allowing the operator to perform other tasks and analyze later, if needed.
“We’ve got a totally open system,” a company spokesperson told me at this year’s AUSA convention, “it’s written in Java and can interface with anything out there." The system provides the user with “a common track across multiple sensing technologies, or even sensor views,” while at the same time creating a “virtual world” populated by all of the objects it has picked up out in the field.
While Raytheon has acknowledged that it has spoken with the Border Patrol about the system, and that it has signed a deal with the U.S. military and that it is operating at two large airports in the U.S., it is keeping mum on the particulars of such deals.
And Raytheon isn't alone. As recently reported in the Arizona Daily Star, a small Tucson, Az. area company has been working on a fiber-optic technology originally developed to monitor oil and gas pipelines that it thinks can make the transition to the world of border security. The Star reports that a company called Zonge Engineering and Research Organization recently ran a test with University of Arizona researchers showing how a fiber-optic line buried 18 inches in the soil “allows a remote sensor to instantly report traffic across it, with a precision that can differentiate between a human or animal coyote and tell the difference between a horse rider and a motorized vehicle.”
A University of Arizona report found that the Helios Distributed Acoustic Sensor is able to track disturbances in a laser pulse traveling through it, and “deployment of 64 sections of the system, in 50-kilometer lines connected to one or two sensors, would cover the entire southern border."
Researchers are estimating that the fiber optic cable can be deployed “for 10 to 20 percent of the $2 million-per-mile cost of the border fence and for a fraction of the $1 billion allocated over five years to the experimental SBInet system of towers,” according to the Star.
Of course, we’ll have to wait to see what Secretary Napolitano wants to do with SBInet, but it is interesting to have heard Mark Borkowski, the CBP’s assistant commissioner for technology innovation and acquisition, say last month that “when I talk of open architecture, I don’t mean ACME prime integrator that I pay $5 million and will integrate it. I mean plug and play…When I talk to folks about this, the folks who really seem to impress us are the innovative small businesses … I will tell you that the large businesses don’t get it.”
Pic:US Border Patrol