A day after President Trump put a focus on border security in his State of the Union Address, officials with Fort Worth-based Elbit Systems of America showed off a high-tech device called Integrated Fixed Towers that the company produces for the U.S. government.
The 55 high-tech 120-to-200-foot towers monitor about 200 miles of sparsely populated border areas in Arizona, and Elbit Systems officials are prepared to expand the technology into border areas in Texas, New Mexico and California.
Elbit Systems, a U.S. subsidiary of an Israeli defense contractor, has been producing the towers since 2015, testing and upgrading them along the way. They are not meant as a wall replacement but as an enhancement, said Bob Edmonds, the company’s vice president of marketing.
“About five years ago this month, Elbit America was selected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol for a project called integrated fixed towers and this project is providing situational awareness and safety for our Border Patrol agents as they perform their mission down on the southern border,” said Gordon Kesting, vice president for Homeland Security at Elbit Systems. “We think it's a very relevant project that plays into a lot of what is being discussed right now that you are hearing in the news.”
The initial $145 million program has done what it set out to do, he said. Along with radar, the towers have a variety of cameras that monitor the area. They allow Border Patrol agents to determine whether an individual is walking alone, carrying a weapon or perhaps a backpack containing contraband materials such as drugs.
“On the top of each tower is a halo of sensors made up of radars and cameras,” said Kesting. “So what happens is the radars detect activity happening around the border and once you detect those activities, that information is displayed on a map for the Border Patrol agents who are operating the system several miles back at command and control centers.”
The information is then sent back to where the agents are working.
“The radars detect the activity and then you have the ability to steer cameras to those detections to determine what the Border Patrol calls ‘identifications’ and that's to determine whether they are seeing people, groups of people, vehicles, animals, so it gives them another bit of information, some situation awareness as they're performing their mission.”
“The technology gives agents information which might be indicative of drug smuggling happening or are they even carrying weapons,” he said. “It would indicate they might be dealing with a higher-level threat that they might have to address.”
Each tower – equipped with cameras and radars and wired into a command and control network – frees five to seven Border Patrol agents from simply staring at the border instead of performing more critical duties: intercepting drug smugglers or performing humanitarian response missions for people in trouble out in the desert, according to Elbit Systems officials.
The tower systems are particularly suited for the many wide-open spaces along the border, while border walls may be more appropriate in urban areas, Elbit Systems officials said.
Trump was to hold his first campaign rally of the year in El Paso on Feb. 11. His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted that the rally would be held "less than 1000 feet from the successful border fence that keeps El Paso safe!"
Elbit Systems hopes to be part of any border solution and said that the government has expressed interest in expanding the tower system.
The company is also developing a mobile truck-mounted version of the tower at the Border Patrol’s request. Built on the back of a Ford F-250 pickup, the Mobile Surveillance System (M2S2) has a collapsible 20-foot tower that includes radar and camera equipment similar to that on the towers but that can be used in areas the towers can’t reach.
Elbit Systems operates in a former General Dynamics plant near Lockheed Martin’s plant in west Fort Worth. About 80 percent of its business involves defense, Homeland Security and other security programs. The company said about 10 percent of its business is involved in medical equipment and other areas.
Elbit Systems of America LLC
A provider of high-performance products, system solutions and support services focusing on the defense, homeland security, commercial aviation and medical instrumentation markets. With headquarters in Fort Worth and facilities throughout the United States, Elbit Systems of America is wholly owned by Elbit Systems Ltd. (NASDAQ: ESLT), a global high-technology company engaged in a wide range of programs for innovative defense and commercial applications.
Fort Worth – 690 employees
U.S. – Over 1,600