Secure Border Initiative To Adjust—Not Terminate
The Secure Border Initiative-Network (SBInet) program, spearheaded by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is entering a new phase this summer that will include the installation of its first permanent surveillance towers and changes in the radar and communications systems, chief CBP spokesperson Jeffrey Robertson told HSToday. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not “scrapping” the system, as erroneously reported in an article by the Associated Press.
The first leg of SBInet, known as Project 28 (P-28) for its border security work along 28 miles of the southern border in Arizona, will come to a close with the installation of permanent surveillance towers to replace the nine temporary towers currently in use to test the functionality of cameras and radars, Robertson says.
News of changes in the program was misinterpreted by some news reports as the death of the program, which would have been a huge setback for DHS. Many inside and outside the department view SBInet as its largest program to date–with a potential final price tag of $30 billion over the life of the program.
“The reality is that we are not scrapping the virtual fence–or the towers or the sensors,” Robertson says. “We are putting new towers in because we are putting in fixed towers. The ones that were there were mobile because they were prototypes that moved to different locations to test the sensors. There is not going to be a Defense Reutilization and Marking Office (DRMO) fire sale with excess property.”
The permanent installation of towers will include a change of radars–from ku-band to X-band systems–because the current radar systems are not best suited for use with vegetation along the southern border.
In addition, SBInet prime contractor Boeing is working to rapidly install a new command operating system to produce the common operating picture CBP operators and Border Patrol agents depend on. Boeing is borrowing heavily from software it has developed for the U.S. Army under the Future Combat System to create a customized operating system that works better with sensors than the current one.
Boeing’s original system for producing a common operating picture at the SBInet command center came from a dispatch system used by law enforcement agencies, which has proven to be a poor fit, Robertson says.
“We have a Rapid Deployment and Joint Applications Development Lab in Crystal City [in Arlington, Va.] that Boeing set up after we accepted the P-28 prototype,” Robertson says. “We learned that you can actually integrate sensors into an operating system and display that for operators. That prototype works. But there will be a different operating system.”
According to HSToday, CBP operators sit next to Boeing programmers in the rapid deployment office and examine issues related to communicating between the towers, the command center and Border Patrol vehicles. They study actual radar images beamed to them from the area of Tucson, Ariz., where Project 28 is based.
In addition, CBP veteran John Santo, the new acting SBInet program manager, has jumped into the administration of the program quickly with the assistance of SBInet deputy program manager Kelly Good.
Despite the changes in the works, CBP has learned a great deal from its investment so far, Robertson argued, making the program to date a success overall. It would be much further along, however, he acknowledges, if Border Patrol agents had been involved in the design of the system from the start. “There was a big mistake because we did not have our Border Patrol agents–our frontline guys–involved with the development,” he says.