Countries around the world are being challenged to secure their borders, natural resources and territorial sovereignty. A priority over the last year has been preventing the movement of people infected with the COVID-19 virus. But long standing problems seem to be growing worse. Drug cartels are moving huge amounts of narcotics across national borders. Illegal fishing fleets have become a problem that is more serious and destructive than, for many countries, drug trafficking. Terrorist groups seek to move fighters, weapons, and money across borders and overseas. All of these threats look for gaps and vulnerabilities in nations’ capabilities to surveil and secure their borders, constantly testing national systems to find their weak spots.
Many nations, particularly those with developing economies, struggle to put together affordable and effective systems to secure their borders, waters and airspace. They are often challenged to link together a disparate set of capabilities—air rafts and helicopters from one supplier, sensors from another, and command and control from a third. There also are difficulties in networking capabilities operated by different branches of their governments and militaries.
U.S. companies seeking to help foreign countries improve their abilities to secure land, air and sea borders need to operate with an understanding of the environment, organizations, and capabilities. Just imposing a U.S.-style solution is a recipe for failure.
U.S. companies have tremendous experience with developing and deploying a wide range of technologies to support the protection of borders. Much of this knowledge base was acquired during two decades of U.S. involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. In addition to providing surveillance and interdiction of national borders, the U.S. military needed a range of capabilities to protect its bases from infiltration and attack, and to conduct the kinds of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) relevant to counterinsurgency operations.
Over a number of years, U.S. companies developed an array of systems to provide sensing, ISR and data exploitation in support of operations in Southwest Asia. One of the major influences in developing some of the requisite technologies, policies and practices was the Air Force’s Big Safari program. Big Safari was responsible for the acquisition, modification, and logistics support for special purpose weapons systems derived from existing aircraft and systems. This included a range of sensor systems and computers that were deployed on modified aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, tethered aerostats, erectable towers, and as standalone ground sites.
One of the most remarkable capabilities developed by the Big Safari program was the Gorgon Stare, a wide-area video surveillance system that could locate, identify and track multiple targets over time. Using Gorgon Stare, the U.S. military could surveil an entire town, using advanced computer processing to extract relevant information from the massive amounts of video data collected.
One U.S. company that excels in the deployment of world-class border security systems is Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). During the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sierra Nevada worked with Big Safari to outfit modified civil aviation platforms to conduct ISR missions. It was SNC that supported Big Safari on the Gorgon Stare sensor. SNC developed unique expertise in outfitting multi-mission aircraft with a range of sensors, computers, and communications system. In recent years, it has provided these aircraft to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with the Saudi Royal Air Force, Kuwait Air Force and Jamaican Defense Force.
Another company that has border security and surveillance as one of its core competencies is Elbit Systems of America, the U.S.-based wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems, Ltd. Elbit Systems of America builds on the enormous experience and technological depth of its parent company, particularly in Israel. But the U.S. company provides domestically-developed, world-class technologies for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For DHS, Elbit has been building a set of Integrated Fixed Towers along the southwestern border. These are equipped with a variety of sensors that can detect and track movement of people and vehicles.
A third company working to secure the U.S. border is General Dynamics. Among its other border security offerings is the Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS). These are fixed or movable towers equipped with day/night cameras, laser illuminators and high-speed microwave transmitters. The RVSS is designed to be low-cost and easily constructed, which makes it very suitable for the foreign sales market.
The trick when working on border security and territorial surveillance problems of U.S. friends and allies is to make the most of existing platforms and systems. By leveraging existing frameworks in foreign inventories, integrating them with key advanced capabilities, and ensuring that they are supportable with local resources and skills, smart U.S. companies will not only be able to sell their products and services overseas, but provide a clear net benefit to their customers.
Another way the United States helps friends and allies protect their borders is by deploying Coast Guard assets to work with the locals on maritime security. This is particularly the case in counter-narcotics and securing maritime resources. U.S. Coast Guard has found itself called on more often than in the past to assist local navies and coasts guards in the defense of their fishing water and to deal with the problem of massive illegal fishing. Training and operating with friends and allies are a way of improving both their performance and that of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Many of these missions have been to the far reaches of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and long distances from homeports. The National Security Cutter (NSC) USCGC Kimball recently conducted a patrol off Fiji to counter illegal, unreported, and unauthorized (IUU) fishing activities. A similar mission was conducted last year by USCGC Bertholf, responding to IUU fishing threat from China off the Galapagos Islands. On its 2021 shakedown cruise, the newest NSC, number 9, USCGC Stone operated in the waters off the coast of Argentina and Brazil to combat IUU fishing in the Atlantic.
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