The Department of Homeland Security issued a call on its five-year Other Transaction Solicitation (OTS) funding mechanism to solicit innovative ways to use unmanned vehicles — commonly known as drones — to help Customs and Border Protection meet its mission.

"CBP — through its Air and Marine Operations (AMO) — utilizes a fleet of marine vessels and aircraft, including large UAS platforms to help fulfill its mission," according to the call issued July 15. "UAS provide assistance filling gaps in border surveillance and their high level of mobility is a valuable capability compared to stationary sensing and surveillance systems."

The solicitation notes CBP has used unmanned systems to stop the import of illegal drugs and otherwise disrupt criminal activities on or near the nation's borders.

However, the market for small UAS (sUAS) is maturing and DHS wants to know how these smaller systems can be applied to meeting CBP's mission, especially the U.S. Border Patrol.

"In particular, DHS is interested in technologies and solutions that support USBP agent activities, including enhanced overall situational awareness or support during distinct events, such as detection, tracking, interdiction and apprehension and search and rescue (SAR) operations," the solicitation reads.

Specifically, DHS is interested in solutions that target at least one of three focus areas:

  • User Interface: Effective communication with and/or control of sUAS that allows users to maintain immediate situational awareness and ability to respond to events and threats.
  • Sensors: Increased situational awareness and autonomous detection, identification and tracking of multiple targets of interest in a variety of environments and weather conditions.
  • Platform Security: Defensive capabilities against unauthorized actors seeking to electronically access, disrupt, disable or take control of sUAS.

The full solicitation includes details on each of the three areas, including hypothetical situations.

Using the OTS authority, DHS is bypassing the normal extended procurement process and going right to the source. The procurement method allows DHS to allocate funds to companies developing new technologies that could have applications for securing the homeland but aren't fully matured.

By offering tiered funding based on results, DHS hopes to push research into sUAS toward solutions to help the agency meet its missions.

The call is broken into four phases, each with $50,000 to $200,000 in funding available and strict timelines for deliverables. In order to continue to qualify for funding, projects must meet deliverables in each phase within three to six months.

The funding model is also detailed in the July 15 call, which also includes a FAQ with more information on how to qualify.

DHS will be holding an industry day in Silicon Valley on July 29 at SRI International in Menlo Park.

DHS has yet to set a due date for applications.