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DHS details contract for second try at Southwest virtual fence

The Homeland Security Department has published an expected draft solicitation for bids on a successor to a failed $1 billion virtual border fence.

The proposed work order calls for "nondevelopmental" -- already available from defense or industrial production lines -- towers flanked with cameras designed to tolerate the extreme Arizona weather. The Southwest terrain undermined former contractor Boeing Co.'s previous try at what was then called the Secure Border Initiative network, leading DHS to switch to a more tailored surveillance strategy.

The "integrated fixed towers" would be deployed first at the Nogales Border Patrol station and possibly at up to five more Arizona areas: Sonoita, Douglas, Casa Grande, Ajo and Wellton, according to the draft request for proposals posted on the Federal Business Opportunities procurement website earlier this week. The apparatus is required to endure temperatures up to 120 degrees, wind gusts of up to 15 miles per hour and periodic lightning.

The setup would consist of radars and cameras mounted on stationary towers powered by the contractor, along with communications gear for transmitting collected images and data to command-and-control centers, the preliminary RFP stated.

The contractor within one year of inking a deal must supply the engineering, staff, management and equipment required to test the structures, according to the notice. After passing muster, the systems would be maintained by the vendor for the duration of the 10-year contract period.

Homeland Security officials have said they plan to distribute a final request for proposals in January or February 2012.

This time, "it appears DHS is getting more realistic about the challenges of deploying [surveillance] under harsh and remote conditions -- lessons that the military typically apply," said Ray Bjorklund, chief knowledge officer for market research firm Deltek, of a shorter introductory notice released last month. "DHS has expanded beyond their initial request for commercial technologies into the realm of what's available as a result of military development."

On Friday, Bjorklund said the first tower probably would yield $100 million for the winning contractor, with each additional tower bringing in an additional $50 million, for a total potential $350 million award.

The first stage of the SBInet overhaul, called the Arizona Technology Deployment Plan, is anticipated to cost $1.5 billion. A Nov. 4 Government Accountability Office report blasted the plan for failing to deliver a credible cost estimate and strategic documents.

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