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NMSU college ranch a proving ground for border security technologies

New Mexico State University's college ranch, long known for its research on livestock, range science and ecology, has taken on yet another research role - as an outdoor laboratory for testing border security technologies.


ially we have set up a field laboratory that is 64,000 acres big," said Bob Silver, director of the Emerging Technologies Lab at NMSU's Physical Science Laboratory (PSL). "Right now we are conducting field tests of video and radar ground surveillance systems with Raytheon Company."

The college ranch, formally known as the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center, provides an ideal setting for evaluating technologies that might help keep the nation's southern border secure, Silver said. Encompassing almost 100 square miles north of Las Cruces, the terrain ranges from Rio Grande flood plain on the west side to the rugged Dona Ana Mountains on the east.

Most of the Southwest border is made up of isolated, rough terrain without roads or other infrastructure, Silver noted. The ability to work with PSL to simulate those environments is a core component of Raytheon's test, evaluation and integration plan for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Secure Border Initiative (SBInet).

With NMSU as a team member, Raytheon has submitted a proposal to DHS to be the prime contractor for SBInet, a comprehensive program to transform border control technology and infrastructure.

The college ranch test range is part of a testbed complex that NMSU began developing in southern New Mexico more than a year ago, Silver said. Other capabilities include a technology testbed at an international port of entry, the only civil flight test area for unmanned aerial systems authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration, and extensive computer simulation expertise. PSL also has agreements with the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., the premier cold-weather research facility for the Department of Defense, and the State University of New York College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, N.Y., to encompass test and evaluation capabilities for the northern border.

"Field testing provides the Raytheon team the capability to validate computer models and to study how technology will perform under the field conditions of the Southwest," Silver said. "With NMSU's help, the Raytheon team can demonstrate both the accuracy of the computer models and how well the technology works in the field. Having the modeling and simulation capability backed up by field validation under real conditions are tremendous advantages that help lower the cost of deployment and rapidly deploy proven, low-risk solutions."

NMSU President Michael Martin said the university is pleased to be part of Raytheon's SBInet team.

"Our Physical Science Laboratory has been helping to shape the Raytheon team's Secure Border Initiative solution by employing the university's broad and versatile border technologies testing facilities," he said. "The Raytheon team, with NMSU, has been working continuously for two years to develop a solution that gains operational control of both the northern and southern borders."

PSL currently is testing video and ground surveillance radar systems on mobile platforms, linked by a communications system to the team's command and control capability, Silver said. "In addition, we are able to share situational awareness with agents to further increase agent effectiveness and safety. Because of the integration, test and evaluation efforts of the past two years, our team will be in position to deliver an immediate capability upon contract award."

PSL, established in 1946 to support the rocket program at White Sands Missile Range, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. In 2004, PSL received the U.S. Army's "Top Ten Greatest Inventions of 2004" award for an signal jamming device that is proving to be effective in defeating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq.

NMSU, a Hispanic-serving institution, serves the needs of New Mexico's diverse population through comprehensive programs of education, basic and applied research and development, extension education, professional training and public service.

Sept. 14, 2006
Karl Hill