Chicago-based federal contractor Boeing has been awarded a contract to establish a hi-tech network of sensors and other surveillance equipment along the Mexican and Canadian borders as part of the U.S. government’s Secure Border Initiative (SBI), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced yesterday.

Dubbed SBInet, the program is designed to leverage modern tracking and video-surveillance technologies to stop illegal immigration into the U.S. Boeing plans to use ground-based and tower-mounted sensors, as well as other types of detection equipment, to detect people trying to cross the border area, Boeing spokesman Robert Villanueva said. Field agents and command centers will be equipped with new telecommunications gear, and other detection strategies may be used in the future, he said.

“Eventually, we’re going to put some equipment that will go down into the ground to detect any caves or tunnels,” Villanueva said. “And it’s possible that some very, very small air vehicles will be used, if the government want us to incorporate those.”

During the next eight months, Boeing is expected to build a model SBInet in a “highly targeted,” 28-mile area of the Arizona border, DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen said. At that point, DHS will evaluate the system before letting Boeing proceed to other tasks.

“Each and every time we do a batch of work, we have to get it validated before we’re eligible to be paid for the next round of work—it’s a pay-by-performance type of thing,” Villanueva said, noting that there would not be a rebidding process for subsequent tasks if Boeing meets the government’s performance standards. “The idea is that we’re going to be the sole contractor; the challenge for us is to keep proving [that the solution delivers as promised].”

Boeing is scheduled to be paid $67 million to develop SBInet for the first task order in the “Tucson sector,” Villanueva said.

But the first task order is just a small part of the overall deal, as the contract calls for Boeing to develop SBInet for 6000 miles of border area in the southwestern and northern U.S., Agen said. SBInet will not be deployed in areas bordered by an ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

Issues regarding networking for the SBInet and what frequencies would be used have “not been determined yet,” Agen said.

Boeing’s deal includes a three-year performance period with the potential of three one-year contract extensions, according to DHS. DHS officials declined to comment on the value of the complete contract, but multiple media reports cite industry estimates that the deal would be worth more than $2 billion.

Members of the Boeing team working on the SBI contract are The Centech Group, DRS Surveillance & Reconnaissance Group, Kollsman, Lucent Technologies, L3 Government Services, L3 Communications West, Perot Systems, Unisys Global Public Sector and U.S. Investigations Services (USIS), Villanueva said.

Giving border officials top-notch technology to do their job is a key component of the Strategic Border Initiative outlined by President George W. Bush in May.

“SBInet will integrate the latest technology and infrastructure to interdict illegal immigration and stop threats attempting to cross borders,” DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement. “This strategic partnership allows the department to exploit private sector ingenuity and expertise to quickly secure our nation’s borders.”