Border Patrol Goes High Tech

Photonics (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), August 24, 2009

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This year, DHS has accelerated plans to build a “virtual fence” on the US-Mexico border that will incorporate steel towers equipped with infrared sensors, remotely operated cameras, communications devices and radar. The system is designed to aid border patrol agents in identifying and intercepting 70 to 85 percent of all illegal passages into the US, increasing control over an immense and rugged terrain.

“US Customs and Border Protection’s approach to securing the border relies on an appropriate and effective balance of personnel, technology and tactical infrastructure, which includes border fencing, roads and lighting,” said Mark Borkowski, executive director of the initiative. “The integrated SBInet technology allows CBP agents and officers to efficiently detect, identify, classify, track and resolve illegal incursions,” he added.

Permanent tower structures standing a few hundred feet apart will be equipped with a Flir Systems Inc. HRC medium-wavelength infrared camera, an Hitachi visible-wavelength electro-optical camera, an advanced radar surveillance system and a laser rangefinder mounted on a high-speed pan/tilt unit. Placed around the towers will be receivers for unattended ground sensors and a microwave system that transmits data back to a command center.

The sophisticated system also will offer enhanced target recognition during day, night and limited-visibility operations, while advanced zoom capabilities will allow detection from hundreds of feet to more than a mile away, Borkowski said.

DHS and its chief contractor, Boeing, are in the beginning stages of modeling the security system along 53 miles of the Arizona border. According to DHS, the fenced area, called block 1, will consist of two sections: Tucson-1, which will cover 23 miles of the border, and Ajo-1, which will cover the other 30 miles.

Once the government approves the setup, the remaining 320 miles also will be equipped with the technology, followed by New Mexico, California and most of Texas–excluding approximately 200 miles that runs along the extremely rugged Big Bend National Park. It is intended that the entire US-Mexico border will be outfitted with the system by 2014.

Over the course of the initiative, Boeing has received $600 million for technology, and as of a year ago, had received an additional $260 million for construction. Total expenditures for the virtual fence are estimated to reach $6.7 billion by 2014.

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The microwave systems, along with more compatible cameras and the technology’s chief component, called a common operating picture (COP), have made the surveillance system easier for border patrollers to use.

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