Electronic Design

Homeland Security Sparks Innovation—And Market Success

Just when you thought you were more secure than ever, several government reports suggest terrorists may have developed new ways to attack the U.S.

After studying the terrorism issues in depth, the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association (GEIA) paints a grim picture of possible results from such attacks. It sees potentially crippling damage wrought from nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction and from cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, such as the nation's communications and transportation systems.

With human intelligence getting such a bad rap and undermanned patrols at all U.S. borders, the nation will lean on its prowess in technology to beat the terrorists at their ever-more threatening game.

Cecil Black, director of market intelligence for Boeing's Washington Operations, and James Wrightson, vice president of strategic planning for Lockheed Martin, offered some ideas during a presentation to the GEIA-sponsored Department of Defense 10-year forecast. They suggested that the U.S. needs greatly accelerated development of advanced antiterrorism capabilities akin to the Manhattan Project of the 1940s. They also called for the Pentagon to play a greater role in homeland defense.

It won't come cheap, though. Most federal R&D funding, about $132.2 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2005 or about 80% of the R&D budget, is tied up in military- or defense-specific research. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received a 20% raise for R&D in FY 2005 over 2004.

A total of $500 million was poured into the new Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), a sum that could double in 2006. HSARPA is modeled after the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA). Yet unlike DARPA, which tends to work on long-range R&D projects, HSARPA plans to focus more on technology programs it can begin to field within three to five years.

Most of the Transportation Security Administration's annual budget of about $5.6 billion is directed toward aviation security, and the bulk of that goes to the nation's largest airports. This may require some rethinking. The recent leak of a confidential report disclosed that the DHS and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are concerned about possible holes in the American aviation system. These problems mainly occur at small, often privately owned airports where noncommercial aircraft fly mostly unscheduled routes. Many of these flights, including small jets and helicopters, operate with little security oversight.

These airports account for about 75% of the air traffic in the U.S.—almost 220,000 small planes fly out of nearly 18,000 of these smaller general aviation fields. Typically, however, these airports can't afford the same type of high-tech security as their large commercial counterparts.

AN OVERBURDENED SYSTEM
The challenge of protecting air travel will only intensify. A recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report forecast that, within a decade, more than a billion people a year will travel by air in the U.S. That's nearly double the number now using the country's already overburdened aviation system.

This was followed by a formal complaint from the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA), a trade group of five unions representing 22,000 pilots, that "gaping holes" exist in airlines' security. The CAPA gives failing or near-failing grades to the government and airlines for their attempts to secure aircraft, passenger, and baggage screening and for crew training. The organization also called on airlines to immediately install countermeasures that would protect them from shoulder-fired weapons, such as Stinger missiles.

Companies like N.J.-based Sarnoff Labs see homeland security as an opportunity. Sarnoff has developed a relatively inexpensive wireless security system that can be installed around small airports and operate as a secure network. The system consists of sensors (including motion detection, temperature and wind gauges, and cameras), specialized software, and computers. Sarnoff believes a five-node system might cost only $10,000, but it has no plans to manufacture the system itself.

And if we're not attacked by air, there's the possibility of danger at sea. Shipping containers have received lots of attention as potential threats because many enter the country with their contents unexamined. One company, L-3 Communications Holdings, came up with a system that uses sensors inside the container to detect chemicals and nuclear materials. The sensors also are tied into an alarm system.

Meanwhile, two of the most dangerous al Qaeda-linked groups in Southeast Asia are reportedly training some of its members in scuba diving for seaborne terror attacks. To better protect the nation's ports from underwater attacks on shipping, bridges, power plants, and other waterfront targets, the U.S. Coast Guard is developing a sonar system that can distinguish human swimmers from large fish, dolphins, and other marine wildlife.

SI International, a specialist in information technology and networks, created an electronic document system that enables vessels to fill in and then electronically submit required Notice of Arrival/Departure (NOA/D) information to the Coast Guard for processing, screening, and storage. The new system lets vessel operators in transit download the necessary NOA/D forms to their onboard computers, enter NOA/D information into an offline form, save the data, and resume working on the form at their convenience. This solves one of the main technical problems with the Web-based NOA/D submission process—unreliable Internet connectivity at sea. SI International's solution works offline, with data submitted later when the Internet becomes available.

STATE AND LOCAL FUNDING
Some of the funding for smaller airfield security systems may come from the $20 billion distributed to states and municipalities to upgrade their security against possible terror attacks.

The Sterling (Virginia) Volunteer Fire Company, for example, invested in a wearable/mobile computer system developed by Xybernaut Corp. that's already used by the military and law enforcement. Northrup Grumman is marketing its Virtual Integrated System of Systems Tool for Analysis (VIS2TA), which can integrate and visualize massive amounts of disparate data to support rapid assessments.

Additionally, Brijot Imaging Systems developed a commercial real-time concealed-weapons detection camera. The BIS-WDS Prime uses passive millimeter-wave sensor camera technology combined with a video camera and special algorithm software. Lockheed Martin developed it and then licensed it to Brijot for commercial applications. According to Brijot, the new camera can detect guns, knives, or bombs, whether they're made of metal, plastic, or composite materials.

Pulse-LINK recently demonstrated its C-Wave ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless local-area network. With the technology, security personnel can use mobile multimedia equipment to transmit high-quality secure audio and video images, replacing nonsecure handheld audio-only radios currently in use. Because it operates over a UWB network and across a broad spectrum of frequencies, Pulse-LINK says, the system is impervious to outside attacks, especially at airports where Wi-Fi networks have become increasingly common in lounges and other public areas.

Another huge opportunity is biometrics. The International Biometrics Group expects the market for biometric technologies (including fingerprinting and scanning, facial recognition, and voice recognition) to be driven largely by homeland-security requirements. This market nearly doubled last year.

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Accel-A-Tech Inc. is actively seeking entrepreneurs, inventors, and technologists with innovative ideas and concepts that can be developed into commercially viable products. The company, self-described as a technology accelerator, identifies new technologies in the homeland-security sector that have attractive commercial potential. At the same time, the 400-member Homeland Security Industries Association (HSIA) formed a strategic partnership with Cronus Capital Markets, a research and consulting firm, to help investors research companies in the homeland-security arena.

"It's clear that investment in the homeland-security sector will continue to be an essential component in executing current government homeland-security directives," says HSIA's president, Bruce Aitken. "Moreover, investment in the R&D initiatives that will guide future homeland security policies is even more crucial to meaningful and measurable homeland security."

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TAGS: Defense
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