EU: Seeing through trees: Frontex commissions study on "solutions for under-foliage detection"

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A study that will examine "solutions for under-foliage detection and their potential impact on border surveillance" has been awarded to Spanish company Isdefe by the EU's border agency, Frontex.

According to a contract award notice posted on the EU's Tenders Electronic Daily website on 21st January, the study aims:

"To provide technical, operational and market information concerning advanced solutions for under-foliage detection and to provide an insight into the future developments of advanced solutions for under-foliage detection." [1]

Isdefe is an abbreviation of Ingeniería de Sistemas para la Defensa de España (Systems Engineering for the Defence of Spain) and the firm describes itself as "a state-owned company offering consulting and engineering services for Spain's public administration and for public international agencies." [2]

It has interests in areas as diverse as financial management, supply chain management, and border surveillance equipment, and will receive €74,251 for carrying out the study. The contract award notice says that it is likely to sub-contract part of the research to another company, at a cost of €18,556.

Under Article 6 of the legislation establishing the agency (Regulation (EU) No 1168/2011), Frontex is given a mandate to:

"[P]roactively monitor and contribute to the developments in research relevant for the control and surveillance of the external borders and disseminate that information to the Commission and the Member States." [3]

EU-funded research

Those carrying out the study for Isdefe may find themselves coming across EU-funded research. In July 2012 the Commission issued a call for proposals for projects as part of the 'security' theme of its Seventh Framework Programme for research (FP7). One of the themes was "sensor technology for under foliage detection". The Commission set out its requirements:

"Several regions at the EU/Schengen Area land borders have forests. The aim of the topic is to detect, locate, track and recognise persons and vehicles entering EU/Schengen territory irregularly in a forested region.

"Surveillance in land borders implies observation over wide distances and harsh unstructured environments. This makes it very difficult for sensors (i.e. radars to detect hidden objects (both mobile and static). The project should develop a system improving capabilities in operational use for situation awareness and identification of objects and groups of persons of interest (e.g. detection of abnormal behaviour, ability to interoperate with law enforcement bodies in case of incident)." [4]

No projects receiving funds under the July 2012 call for proposals have so far been listed in CORDIS, the EU's database of research projects. A 2013 issue of Frontiera, the magazine of the Romanian border police, makes reference to a €14,000,000 EU-funded security research project on under-foliage detection led by the Italian wing of Selex Galileo, but no further information is publicly available. [5] Selex Galileo have not responded to enquiries from Statewatch.

One project funded by the EU's Seventh Framework Programme under the theme 'research for the benefit of SMEs' (small and medium-sized enterprises) began in October 2013 and hopes to develop:

"[A] new, integrated security and search-and-rescue airborne solution conceived to detect people, both above visible [sic] and hidden behind opaque layers (like foliage, trailer covers, boat covers) or in darkness and reduced visibility conditions. The solution will work on board of an aerial vehicle making exhaustive and intelligent use of state-of-the-art-sensors: Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Electro-Optical (EO) imagery…" [6]

The project, 'Cognitive Airborne Multisensor System for Aerial Reconnaissance Intelligence and Surveillance' (CAESARIS), has been awarded €1,088,000 from the EU, over two-thirds of the total cost of €1,499,672. Research institutes and companies from Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain will undertake the work.

Already on the market

Some technology that claims to allow detection of people or moving objects in or under dense foliage is already available. For example, the American company FLIR produces the Ranger GRIDS system, which "consists of an array of very low power sensors set up along a border or around a perimeter. Multiple systems can be implemented to form a sensor barrier of any length." [7]

British company Mapping Solutions provides technology for generating mapping imagery, and notes that synthetic aperture radar mounted to drones or light aircraft can:

"[P]enetrate soils, forest cover, ice and snow, and some man-made materials. It is therefore an ideal technique for rapidly surveying large areas to locate target objects which are concealed by soil or forest cover." [8]

The United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency has also funded research into foliage-penetrating radar systems, leading to the development of FORESTER (Foliage Penetration (FOPEN) Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Tracking and Engagement Radar), currently being sold by US company SRC. Designed for use on manned helicopters, it has also been successfully tested on unmanned systems. SRC says the system "denies enemy sanctuary under foliage, during darkness, or in adverse weather." [9]

The potential deployment of "under-foliage detection" technology for border control appears to be a clear case of military technology crossing into the civil sphere. In the book 'Foliage Penetration Radar', Dr. Mark E. Davis, who has worked on radar technology for DARPA, notes that: "There was a definite dual-use message in the development objectives in the early 1990s." [10]

'All Eyes'

The Isdefe study forms part of 'All Eyes: Aerial, Ground and Sea Surveillance - sensors and platforms and advanced system solutions', a sub-topic of Frontex's 'Border Surveillance Development Programme'.

The 'All Eyes' project has four key aims:

  • Boost MS [Member State] awareness concerning new developments in the field of sensors, platforms and advanced system solutions;
  • Catalogue existing practices and identify areas where best practices could be developed in relation to border surveillance;
  • Examine and validate the detection capabilities and applicability of the existing surveillance tools and technologies in an operational environment; and
  • Facilitate the deployment (try-out) of new technologies for border surveillance as pilots in MSs and/or in the context of JOs [Joint Operations] organised by Frontex.

    Alongside the study on "under foliage detection", Frontex's 2013 Work Programme outlined six other actions as part of the 'All Eyes' project:

  • Aerial Border Surveillance Trial with manned aircraft with optionally piloted aircraft capability equipped with multi-intelligence sensors and report;
  • Demo of MALE [Medium Altitude Long Endurance] Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) in an operational environment and report;
  • Testing of integrated mobile land surveillance equipment during a JO;
  • Creation of a Working Group and development of minimum technical requirements and/or guidelines on integrated mobile land surveillance system;
  • Workshop on Persistent Wide Border Area Surveillance and report; and
  • Elaborated CONOPS [Concept of Operations] for detecting and tracking of small boats.

    According to the 2013 Work Programme, €580,000 was devoted to the Border Surveillance Development Programme - an increase of €230,000 on the 2012 budget for the same programme, despite a near-€4 million decrease in the agency's overall budget, which dropped from €89.5 million to €85.7 million.

    €450,000 of the Border Surveillance Development Programme budget was allocated to the 'All Eyes' project, and €130,000 to the 'Border Security Research Bridge', which aims at coordinating and enhancing the direct involvement of the Border Guard community in planning research activities and shaping mid and long-term research agenda." [11]

    Further reading

  • 'New police cooperation plan includes surveillance, intelligence-gathering and remote vehicle stopping technology', Statewatch News Online, 23 January 2014
  • 'Commission launches study on the possible creation of a "European System of Border Guards" to be operated by Frontex', Statewatch News Online, July 2013
  • 'Frontex: "optionally-piloted" aircraft tests, but no drones... yet', Statewatch News Online, 29 May 2013
  • 'EU policy on irregular migration is "fundamentally at odds with the human rights approach"', Statewatch News Online, 23 May 2013
  • 'Field testing: CLOSEYE project puts drones over the Mediterranean', Statewatch News Online, 10 May 2013

    [1] 'Poland-Warsaw: Study on advanced technological integration for solutions for under-foliage detection and their potential impact on border surveillance', 21 January 2014
    [2] Isdefe, '2012 Annual Report'
    [3] Steve Peers, 'The Frontex Regulation - Consolidated text after 2011 amendments'
    [4] European Commission, 'Work Programme 2013 - Cooperation - Theme 10 - Security', 9 July 2012, p.48
    [5] General al Politiei de Frontiera, 'Frontiera', p.7
    [6] CORDIS, 'Cognitive Airborne multisEnsor System for Aerial Reconnaissance Intelligence and Surveillance'
    [7] FLIR, 'Ranger GRIDS'
    [8] Mapping solutions, 'Radar'
    [9] SRC, 'FORESTER'; see also 'DARPA’s Foliage-Penetrating Radar Tested on the A160T Hummingbird', Defense Update, 25 October 2009
    [10] Mark E. Davis, 'Foliage Penetration Radar - Detection and Characterization of Objects Under Trees', Raleigh: SciTech Publishing, 2011, p.25
    [11] Frontex, 'Programme of Work 2013', 13 December 2012

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