Better Than X-Rays: The Z-Backscatter Scan-Van
American Science and Engineering’s Z Backscatter Van(TM) (ZBV) is a low-cost, extremely maneuverable short-range screening system built into a commercially available delivery van. The ZBV employs AS&E’s patented Z Backscatter technology, which reveals contraband that transmission X-rays miss – such as explosives (including car bombs), plastic weapons, and people – providing photo-like imaging for rapid analysis.
The Z-Backscatter Van is also capable of identifying low levels of radioactivity from both gamma rays and neutrons with optional Radioactive Threat Detection (RTD) technology. This article explains how it works, and provides an illustrative slice of coverage regarding contracts and key events from FY 2005 to the end of FY 2008. The latest set of additions wraps up DID’s coverage…
- The Technology
- Contracts & Key Events, FY 2005-2008
- Additional Readings
ZBV is a short-range technology, but within that range t’s quite useful. A lot of organic material is low-density, and doesn’t show up well on traditional transmission X-ray images. For instance, organic matter like explosive materials contains low atomic number (low Z) elements such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen.
American Science and Engineering, Inc.’s (AS&E) products creates photo-like Z Backscatter images showing organic materials by directing a sweeping beam of X-rays at the object under examination, and then measuring and plotting the intensity of scattered X-rays as a function of the beam position. Akin to light reflection, Z-Backscatter signals are particularly strong whenever the incident X-rays interact with explosives, plastics, and other biological items, which typically contain low Z materials. Even inorganic objects, such as metals, are given shape and form in Z-Backscatter images, making them easier to interpret than transmission images during X-ray evaluation.
The Z-Backscatter vans can scan adjacent vehicles while the system itself is moving, scanning an entire row of parked cars in a single pass-through and producing clear images. They can also be operated in stationary mode by parking the system, and producing X-ray images of vehicles as they pass by. In high-threat areas, a stationary mode van can even be operated remotely by an operator positioned 500 meters/ 0.3 miles away.
The technology’s abilities include near-photo quality views through clothes when used in airport screening systems, which caused something of a privacy uproar. Questions have also been raised re: the health risks to those scanned, which may well be ignored in situations of war or insurrection, but becomes a very live issue when proposed as an requirement for popular activities like airline travel.
In recent years, AS&E has added to their systems’ options with forwardscatter technology. Forwardscatter offers a second scatter perspective that displays dense objects in cargo, such as the shielding found around nuclear materials. An improved Z-Backscatter Van or ZBV Mil trailer in stationary scan mode, for instance, would also have Forwardscatter detectors positioned opposite the X-ray source in the trailer. The Forwardscatter image is displayed simultaneously with the Z Backscatter image, providing the operator with more information about the contents of a scanned vehicle. A vehicle that was also equipped with the radiation threat detection (RTD) option would be able to scan for organic materials, extremely dense shielding materials, and low levels of radioactivity from both gamma rays and neutrons.
Contracts & Key Events, FY 2005-2008
This section lists all DefenseLINK announcements covering US military contracts, with a public reporting threshold of $5 million, as well as all relevant FY 2007-08 announcements from AS&E, Inc. in Billerica, MA.
This is an illustrative article, discussing a new technology that is showing military impact in the field. Developments beyond the end of FY 2008 (Sept 30/08) can be perused via ASE’s corporate web site.
Sept 22/08: ASE announces a $22 million two-phased service renewal contract from the U.S. government to support their fleet of Z Backscatter Vans(TM), including service, support, spare parts, and labor warranty for Z Backscatter Vans located in high-risk areas. The first phase of the contract is funded at $18.3 million.
Aug 25/08: ASE announces a $22.2 million order from the U.S. Government for 22 more Z-Backscatter Vans(TM) , including operator training, spare parts, service, and warranty.
Aug 4/08: ASE announces an order for 10 Z Backscatter Vans(TM) “for a South American Government.”
July 30/08: ASE announces a $2.6 million order from “a Middle East client” for “multiple” Z Backscatter Vans(TM), to be used by a government agency for VIP security. Anthony R. Fabiano, President and CEO of AS&E:
“This is the third order from this country in the Middle East…”
July 28/08: ASE announces a $15.5 million 2-phased service renewal contract from the U.S. government for $15.5 million to support their fleet of Z-Backscatter Vans(TM) and parcel X-ray inspection systems. The contract includes service, support, spare parts, and labor warranty for Z Backscatter Vans and parcel systems located in high-risk areas. ASE has Field Service Engineers at offices in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.
The first phase of the contract is funded at $7.6 million.
July 2/08: ASE announces a $55.1 million contract from the Customs Administration at Abu Dhabi, the largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates. ASE will supply “multipl”e OmniView(TM), Z Portal(R) and Z Backscatter Van(TM) detection systems to scan cargo trucks, passenger vehicles, and containers at strategic border checkpoints.
June 30/08: ASE announces that FORTUNE Small Business magazine has ranked the Company number 61 in this year’s list of Fastest Growing Small Public Companies.
June 23/08: ASE announces a $3.4 million order from the U.S. Government for service, support, and spare parts for Z Backscatter Vans (ZBV).
AS&E was awarded the initial Base Year of the contract in September of 2006 valued at $11.0 million and was awarded Option Year One of the contract in March 2007, valued at $17.5 million. Option Year Two was received in April 2008 and this latest award completes the funding for the multi-year contract with a total value of $46.2 million.
May 13/08: ASE announces an $9.2 million order for multiple Z-Backscatter Vans(TM) for “a Latin American customs agency.” The order includes operator training, service, and warranty; and 3 of the systems will be configured with Forwardscatter(TM) capability.
April 24/08: The Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, VA announces a $14.8 million firm-fixed-priced order under a previously awarded contract (M67854-06-C-5163, #P00006). The contract covers a year of spares and support for the Z-Backscatter X-ray Van (ZBV) inspection system, including field service representatives, maintenance and warranty. Work will be performed in Billerica, MA and is expected to be complete in April 2009. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
Jan 3/08: AS&E announces “a multi-million dollar order” for the OmniView(TM) Gantry system and the Z Backscatter Van(TM) (ZBV) from its local distributor in Italy, AUS.TECH S.p.A. The systems will be deployed to inspect cargo and vehicles entering a major, high-volume Italian port. The OmniView Gantry combines 6.0 MeV high-energy transmission with 3 Z-Backscatter imaging modules to provide left, right, and top-views.
Jan 2/08: AS&E announces $4.2 million in orders for “multiple Z Backscatter Van(TM) (ZBV) X-ray screening systems from international clients.”
Oct 30/07: A UK MoD release states that coalition forces have handed over key security equipment to Iraqi officials in Basra Province to improve security along Iraq’s borders. Colonel Paddy Hallinan, commander of the Multinational Division (South East) ISF Group, formally handed over possession of 2 Backscatter Vans to Brigadier Satar, the regional Chief of Operations for the Department for Border Enforcement (DBE).
The article lists the van’s price as $1.5 million each.
Oct 10/07: AS&E announces that the U.S Government has purchased its first Z Portal(TM) drive-through screening system with three Z Backscatter imaging modules (left, right, and top-view) and Forwardscatter(TM) technology, and reordered 3 Z-Backscatter(TM) Vans (ZBV), for inspecting trucks and passenger cars in high-volume traffic areas. The contracts are valued at $3.9 million, and include installation, and operator training.
With this order, AS&E states that “over 300 ZBVs will be deployed worldwide for force protection, VIP and event security, law enforcement, and port and border security.”
Sept 27/07: AS&E announces a $4 million contract for “multiple Z Backscatter Vans and SmartCheck Personnel Screening Systems from a new African Customer. Two of the ZBVs will be equipped with Forwardscatter capability, and all of the systems include service and maintenance training, and extended warranty.”
Sept 11/07: AS&E announces that “the U.S. Government” has renewed a 1-year service and maintenance contract for multiple Z-Backscatter Vans and Ruggedized Detection Imaging Modules(TM). The contract is valued at $5.9 million.
AS&E’s Field Service Engineers (FSEs) have “a technical degree in electrical and mechanical engineering or equivalent experience.” They are trained in the operation and repair of electronics, hydraulics, pneumatics, mechanics, electrical systems, and computers. FSEs are available on call 24/7 from AS&E offices in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.
Aug 13/07: AS&E introduces the ZBV Military Trailer(TM) – a militarized version of the company’s patented Z-Backscatter Van – at the 2007 Force Protection Equipment Demonstration (FPED) in Stafford, VA. Their official release adds that:
“Development of the ZBV Military Trailer was supported by a November 2006 R&D contract for $2.2 Million to deliver a ruggedized ZBV for the U.S. Government… ZBV Mil Trailer also includes Forwardscatter technology to complement Z Backscatter imaging”
July 9/07: AS&E announces a $2.0 million order from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for 3 Z-Backscatter Van systems equipped with Radioactive Threat Detection (RTD) capability.
July 5/07: AS&E announces a $2.3 million order from “a new Middle Eastern customer” for multiple Z-Backscatter Vans, configured for harsh environments and with Forwardscatter capability. In the corporate release, President and CEO Anthony Fabiano states that:
“International ZBV activity continues to increase, particularly from the Middle East… These ZBVs will utilize our new Forwardscatter technology option to add a second scatter perspective to enhance detection in dense regions of scanned vehicles and cargo — ideal for detecting metallic threats including the shielding around nuclear weapons. With these two unique technologies, the ZBV provides unparalleled detection to secure this customer’s high-threat facility.”
May 31/07: AS&E announces “an order for eight Z(R) Backscatter Vans(TM) (ZBV(TM)) from a South American law enforcement agency. The order includes operator training, service, and warranty.” Pirce is not mentioned, but can be inferred from other announced contracts.
May 14/07: AS&E announces a $3.5 million contract from the U.S. Government to provide service, maintenance, training, and spare parts for multiple Z Backscatter Vans deployed overseas.
April 25/07: AS&E announces a $2.0 million order for Z Backscatter Vans “from a U.S. Government client. The order includes operator training, service, and warranty.”
March 26/07: AS&E announces a $17.5 million contract from the U.S. Government to provide service and maintenance for multiple Z-Backscatter Van. AS&E was awarded the initial $11 million phase of the contract in September 2006 , and this latest award brings the total funded amount to $28.5 million with a potential value of up to $46.2 million. The contract offers the U.S. Government options to exercise the remaining phases out to May 2009.
February 20/07: AS&E announces a $6.2 million order from “a new Middle Eastern customer” for “multiple” Z-Backscatter Vans. They will be configured for harsh environments, and used to secure and protect government facilities.
Jan 3/07: AS&E announces $4 million in orders from “a European Union (EU) and an Asia Pacific (APAC) client” for “multiple” Z-Backscatter Vans.
Aug 31/06: American Science & Engineering in Billerica, MA received a $46.5 million firm-fixed-price service contract for service and maintenance support of 67 Z-Backscatter Systems, associated manuals, and spare parts. Work will be performed in various locations within the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, and is expected to be completed May 2009. Contract funds will expire by the end of the current fiscal year. This contract is a sole source award to the manufacturer and sole maintainer of the proprietary Z-Backscatter System. The Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA issued this contract (M67854-06-C-5163).
Aug 15/05: American Science and Engineering, Inc. in Billerica, MA received a $61.3 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract with a maximum ordering quantity of 52 Z-Backscatter X-Ray Systems and associated manuals, spares and field support. The initial delivery order of $38.7 million is for 32 of the 52 Backscatter Systems available on the contract.
Work will be performed in Billerica, MA, and is expected to be complete by August 2006. This contract is a sole source award to American Science and Engineering, Inc., the sole manufacturer of the Z-Backscatter X-Ray System. The Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA issued the contract (M67854-05-D-5168). See also AS&E release.
Aug 1/05: American Science and Engineering of Billerica, MA received a $9.5 million firm-fixed price contract for eight Z-Backscatter Vans to meet U.S. Central Command requirements for Afghanistan and Iraq. Work on this contract will be performed at Billerica, MA and is estimated to be completed on Sept. 1, 2005. The U.S. Army Contracting Agency at White Sands Missile Range, NM issued the contract (GS-07F-8897D). Army Public Affairs can be reached at (703) 692-2000.
Oct 21/04: The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has selected American Science and Engineering’s Z Backscatter Van for use in a pilot program to screen ferry-bound automobiles for explosives. The 30-day pilot program will take place at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in Cape May, N.J., and is part of the TSA’s Secure Automobile Inspection Lanes (SAIL) project. Military Aerospace & Electronics report.
- American Science and Engineering, Inc – Z Backscatter Van Drive-By Screening System (Mobile System)
- How Stuff Works – Do “backscatter” X-ray systems pose a risk to frequent fliers?
- Health Physics Society – Screening Individuals with Backscatter X-Ray Systems
- Electronic Privacy Information Center – “Backscatter” X-Ray Screening Technology
- Responder Safety (March 30/07) – To See or Not to See? TSA unveils Backscatter technology at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport
- American Forces Press Service (Dec 1/05) – Iraqis Will Have Secure Voting Environment, General Says. “The border patrol is employing technology at the border crossings, he said. A type of X-ray machine known as a Backscatter system is being used to scan cargo vehicles to detect people trying to enter Iraq by hiding in cargo.”
- Electronic Privacy Information Center – (June 2005) – Transportation Agency’s Plan to X-Ray Travelers Should Be Stripped of Funding. “Two major vendors produce backscatter machines for security purposes. American Science and Engineering (AS&E) offers “Z Backscatter” products, including its “BodySearch” device for scanning humans.5 Rapiscan Systems, a division of OSI Systems, offers the Rapiscan Secure 1000, the X-ray machine that TSA is using to search air passengers.6″
- American Forces Press Service (Sept 29/04) – Iraq’s Border Enforcement Department Graduates First Cadet Class. “The goal is to have more than 180 border forts completed by the end of the year, and Petraeus said the rebuilding of infrastructure would continue, but that was not the only thing that needs to be done for the DBE to succeed. “While forts are necessary, they are not sufficient,” Petraeus said. “You also need the right technology and equipment to do your job.” Petraeus said new equipment is already flowing in from radios for communication, to backscatter X-ray machines to assist in inspecting vehicles, to ground sensors that will detect movement along the border. The technology, along with manpower, would be the key, he added.”