Mon, May 12, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Despite glitches, US to press ahead with ‘virtual fence’ plan

AP , TUCSON, ARIZONA

A second section of the US government’s heavily criticized “virtual fence” is planned on the Arizona-Mexico border and a third could be tested near Detroit by the end of this year, a Boeing Co official said.

A prototype consisting of nine movable towers across a 45km-area southwest of Tucson would be torn down and replaced this summer because it failed to perform as expected.

But Jack Chenevey, program manager for Boeing’s Secure Border Initiative (SBI) project, said on Thursday that the company viewed the results of its US$20 million prototype as a steppingstone success.

“Border Patrol agents use it absolutely 24-7. The reliability and availability of the system has exceeded our expectations for a prototype system,” Chenevey said in a telephone interview.

The project also met all contractual requirements, he said.

The SBI envisions using virtual fencing along portions of both borders. The towers are intended to clamp down on illegal immigration by giving Border Patrol agents video and pinpoint locations of intruders.

Problems in the computer software tying together detections from its series of sensors, radars and cameras into a common picture delayed the prototype fence’s operation for several months. Delays in satellite transmission of data added to its problems.

Boeing was paid US$20 million by the Department of Homeland Security to build the fence last summer. It is north of the border near the port of entry at Sasabe.

Customs and Border Protection officials acknowledged last month that the towers, called Project 28, didn’t work well enough to continue their refinement and said they would be replaced with improved ones.

Boeing expects to start building an additional 48km of new virtual fencing in southern Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument later this year, Chenevey said. The project is also expected to be tested along the Canadian border this year, near Detroit.

Boeing has a US$45 million contract to create new software for the Border Patrol’s needs. The company has been awarded about US$860 million for the entire nationwide SBI effort.

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