Boeing Co. has been chosen to build a "virtual fence" using sensors and cameras along the U.S. border with Mexico and Canada to help control illegal immigration in a contract projected to be worth up to $2 billion.
The Secure Border Initiative, or SBInet, will be launched along a 28-mile swath of the border near Tucson, Arizona, and eventually be expanded to some 6,000 miles of border areas, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.
"What we are looking to build is a virtual fence, a 21st-century virtual fence," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a news conference.
Chertoff said the first stage of the three-year contract was worth $67 million, but refused to say how much the entire contract was worth. The contract can be extended for up to three additional years.
Boeing and competitor Northrop Grumman are on record estimating the value of the multiyear contract at $2 billion.
"The key to this is integration. Prior efforts to put technology on the border have been focused on individual tools, but not on putting all the tools together," Chertoff said.
Last year more than 1.2 million people were caught trying to cross the borders into the United States, and experts estimate at least that many slipped by undetected.
Last week the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of building about 700 miles of fence along the border with Mexico. The controversial fence has been criticized by Mexico and by Democrats who say it is just aimed at gathering Republicans votes in the Nov. 7 election.
SBInet will use different types of technologies, depending on the terrain, Chertoff said. Boeing will help unify existing technologies and install new tracking sensors, cameras and communications equipment so border agents can keep a closer eye on cities and deserts in the Southwest as well as on lakes and forested mountains along the Canadian border.
Boeing's project proposal also included relying on more than 300 radar towers along the borders, some supplemented with cameras developed by Israel's Elbit Systems Ltd. which can spot people nearly 9 miles away and vehicles at distances of up to 12 miles.
Under the program, Boeing and its partners will also work to improve physical infrastructure along the border areas to help agents do their job.
After SBInet is deployed in Arizona, it will be rolled out in segments to other parts of the border based on highest traffic areas, Chertoff said.
Other partners of Boeing in the bid include L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. , Unisys Corp. , Perot Systems Corp. , DRS Technologies , Elbit unit Kollsman Inc., Lucent Technologies , Centech and USIS.
Boeing said in the coming months it would issue subcontracts to "many additional companies" as it begins to create and deploy SBInet.
Losing competitors were Lockheed Martin Corp. , Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co. , as well as Sweden's Ericsson.
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