MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Some gates at U.S. Air Force bases in the Pacific may soon go “high-tech” with the installation of electronic card readers and much more.

Entry points heavy on technology will be one of the most noticeable components of a new Air Force plan to bolster base security. As part of the System Effectiveness Assessment program, a team of security experts is visiting Pacific Air Forces bases to evaluate their force protection posture, officials said.

“With the global war on terrorism, we know that our enemies are continually changing their tactics in how they try to attack us,” said Col. Al Riggle, PACAF Security Forces director. “We want to look from the outside in and look at the entire system. How can we improve … our detection capabilities and capabilities to respond and interdict an adversary?”

Although it gained momentum after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the SEA program’s idea was sparked by a series of gate-runnings at Air Force bases, around the time the USS Cole was bombed in late 2000, said Maj. Joe Milner, commander of 35th Security Forces Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

“There were eight across the Air Force,” Milner said. The incidents were benign — no one was carrying a bomb — but “it raised concerns,” he said, adding: “How vulnerable are our gates and how well are we really doing with only an individual (guard) or two out there?”

The PACAF SEA team has examined six installations: Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; Yokota Air Base, Japan; the 497th Combat Training Squadron at Sembawang, Singapore; and Taegu, Kunsan and Osan air bases in South Korea.

The team is currently at Misawa until Jan. 23; it will visit the remaining PACAF bases later this year.

In the past, typical security evaluations looked at “how well you complied with rules and instructions,” Milner said. SEA is focused on capabilities.

“Do the Air Force instructions that we’ve been applying … provide real security?” he asked.

The team at Misawa is looking at physical security “around our aircraft and other mission assets,” he said. “They’ll provide an initial baseline to tell us how we’re doing.”

At each base, a Mission Assurance Tiger Team follows up the SEA visit to help each installation implement recommendations, Milner said. The result will be a force protection improvement plan targeting technology and equipment, manpower, policy and procedures — one that differs from a base’s installation security plan, according to PACAF.

It’s “a roadmap designed specifically for an installation to achieve the maximum capability to defeat any potential adversary,” said Capt. Joseph Musacchia, PACAF Security Forces Requirements Branch chief and Tiger Team leader, in a PACAF news release.

The Air Force has funded about $352 million for the “Smart Gate,” a kit that includes electronic card readers, drop arm bars and electronic barriers, Riggle said.

“The idea behind Smart Gate is to provide you the capability to move a lot of people rapidly and securely through your gate,” Milner said.

The card reader would not eliminate the human element from the gates, but maximize resources, Riggle said. “We’re looking to free up our airmen from doing some of the more mundane tasks that might put them at risk,” he said. “And put airmen in more of an ‘observe and watch’ position so they can respond to things instead of doing things that a machine can do for us.

“Our goal is to eventually eliminate security forces from doing ID checks at the gate.”

The Smart Gate kit also includes a scanning device that can read a radio frequency identification tag on vehicles, but Riggle said that technology may be more difficult to implement at overseas bases where host nations would have to approve it.

“As your vehicle approaches the gate, the reader would pick up the chip or card on your vehicle … and give us a signal that the vehicle was OK to come in,” Riggle said.

The Air Force purchased the kits in limited quantities, Milner said. Which PACAF bases will receive them and when they will be installed has yet to be determined.

“We’re hoping the first site survey teams will be coming around this year,” Riggle said. “Initially, we’ll install some of these at a gate at each base.”

Riggle said his goal is to match up the “common access card” — the standard ID card for servicemembers, Defense Department civilians and dependents — with card readers.

“The challenge we’re going to have is with visitors,” Riggle added. “It will be interesting how we apply it here at Misawa, where we have [Japan Air Self-Defense Forces], as well as a bilateral base” with the Navy.

One criteria for the system: “It had to be very quick and it had to be able to process information as fast as our airmen do right now,” Riggle said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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