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DHS awards $100 million contract for ultralight aircraft detection system

Ultralight aircraft

Facing increasing pressure from drug dealers using ultralight, hard-to-spot aircraft to smuggle drug loads across the border undetected, the Department of Homeland Security awarded a New York company with a $99.9 million contract for detection technology that can find the aircraft.

The contract, awarded to SRCTec Inc., headquartered in Syracuse, NY, is aimed at what DHS has said is a potent threat from smugglers piloting low, slow-flying aircraft, weighing under 300 lbs and carrying minimal amounts of fuel, to get by normal radar.

The growing use of the aircraft in border states prompted former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) to push legislation stiffening penalties for their use in crimes. Giffords' final legislative act in Congress was to see her bill signed into law on Feb. 10 by President Obama.

That law added “ultralights” (ULAs) to the definition of aircraft under aviation smuggling provisions of Tariff Act of 1930 and would add “conspiracy to commit” smuggling to the offenses that can be applied (in addition to actually committing smuggling crimes) when using the aircraft. It also encourages inter-agency cooperation between Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security on technology to detect ultralights.

Customs and Border Protection has been keen on obtaining new technology to detect the aircraft for years. It said it wanted a self contained system, able to operate with or without power of CBP communications infrastructure to permit deployment in remote areas in all types of weather and terrain conditions,” said a presolicitation notice issued by CBP in June, 2008.

The SRCTec contract is aimed at the southwestern border and calls for data transmission support from the Air and Marine Operations Center in Riverside, CA, which also tracks full-sized aircraft traffic along the border. CBP  also wanted the system to track as many as 25 targets with sensors located in remote areas, as well as more populated areas and be able to cope with the extreme heat in the southwestern border region.

SRCTec said it is a not-for-profit, research and development company that develops unique, creative solutions for nationally significant challenges in defense, environmental and intelligence. It was established by the University of Syracuse in 1957 and spun off in 1970 to become and independent organization.


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