DHS awards $2b SBI-Net contract to Boeing

Aerospace giant wins by offering 'practical' solution

A CBP agent operates remote camera systems located across the U.S. border, trying to located illegal immigrants.

James Tourtellotte

A big piece of the Homeland Security Department's major Secure Border Initiative fell into place last week when it tapped Boeing Co. to provide the networking backbone.

DHS on Thursday officially named Boeing as the winner of the highly anticipated SBI-Net contract.

SBI-Net is part of secretary Michael Chertoff's comprehensive border initiative announced in November 2005.

The indefinite-delivery, indefinite quantity contract replaces DHS' $2.5 billion border surveillance upgrade program, America's Shield Initiative.

Chertoff, who had criticized what he called the 'gadgets' involved in ASI, said SBI-Net would rely on proven technology. 'We're not interested in performing science projects at the border,' he said.

Industry observers have estimated the contract to cost more than $2 billion. Several companies'including Lockheed Martin Co., Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman and Ericsson'submitted bids for the contract in late May.

Boeing has been awarded the first two task orders, one to set up a program management office and another to deploy an initial solution along the 28-mile portion of the southern border of Mexico in Tuscon, Ariz. The two orders total $67 million, officials said. The Tuscon leg of the project is expected to be completed in April.

Surprise choice

That Boeing was picked surprised some industry observers, who note that the company is relatively new to the sector.

'It's a surprise because Boeing hasn't really been a player in homeland security IT,' said one industry consultant, who requested anonymity. 'Boeing and Ericsson were less likely than the other firms.'

Another industry executive said Boeing's selection reinforces earlier DHS statements that SBI-Net is not just about technology, but whether all the systems can be woven together and communicate accurate data in real time.

DHS deputy secretary Michael Jackson 'said this is not about technology,' this executive said. 'Boeing came in with proven technology that will get information to people so they can use it. And quite possibly they had the lowest cost as well.'

The source said that although some of the losing bidders will likely be frustrated with the decision, a protest is not expected.

'All the solutions were so unique, so it was not a matter of variance in price,' the executive said. 'The only thing someone could protest was if the government screwed up in their evaluations. But I don't see that happening. The government was very careful. Yes they did it fast, but they did it well. The solutions were all so different, they picked the one they wanted and had the best value for DHS. Boeing offered very practical solution.'

Boeing hopes to leverage its experience managing similar programs, such as the Army's Future Combat System and NASA's International Space Station, Wayne Esser, capture team leader of the Boeing team, told Washington Technology, GCN's sister publication. Boeing is the lead systems integrator for combat systems and prime contractor for the space station.

'This is a big challenge for DHS, and we at Boeing have the experience and the processes in place to succeed with complex, politically challenging, high-risk programs,' Esser said.

Boeing's team members include systems integrator Unisys Corp., as well as Merrimack, N.H.-based surveillance technology firm Kollsman Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Elbit Systems Ltd. of Haifa, Israel.

Elbit handles a large portion of Israel's border security surveillance system with integrated sensors, radars, a 'smart fence' and cameras, as well as sophisticated points of entry. But Elbit's expertise in Israel is not entirely applicable in SBI-Net because Israel's border is 'locked down,' while the U.S. border favors an open flow of commerce and people, Esser said.

Boeing will deploy unmanned aerial vehicles in its SBI-Net solution, but it will use only one type of small UAV that can be launched easily for a reconnaissance or surveillance mission, Esser said.

While not including facial-recognition technology in its initial SBI-Net proposal, the Boeing team's plan does allow for a specific form of the technology expected to be available in the spring of 2007, Esser said. 'We are looking at a technology that is advanced and can pick a face in the crowd.'

GCN assistant managing editor Jason Miller contributed to this story.

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