HOMELAND SECURITY

Law Enforcement Agencies to Receive Surplus Bomb Disposal Robots

5/1/2012
By Stew Magnuson
The Defense Logistics Agency is poised to donate hundreds of robots that were acquired over the past decade to law enforcement agencies, a DLA official said.

Some of these robots that were used for explosive ordnance disposal and surveillance missions will be older heavily used models, while others are almost new and never went overseas, said Dan Arnold, eastern team lead of the DLA’s disposition services office.

Robots are one example of the surplus equipment that may become available as the conflict in Afghanistan winds down, he said at the GovSec conference in Washington, D.C. The program is authorized to give surplus equipment to any law enforcement agency — state, local or federal — that has either a counter-narcotics or counterterrorism mission.

Arnold is currently working out the final details with the Army Tank Automotive, Research and Development Command in Warren, Mich., to release the second-hand robots as early as this summer.

Tim Trainer, interim general manager of military robots at iRobot said companies such as his might see some short-term loss of sales as the DLA floods the domestic market with free machines. However, the beneficiaries will need spare parts, and eventually upgrades and replacement robots.

Long term, “this primes the pump of the robotics market” by putting the technology in the hands of more agencies and making it more commonplace, he told National Defense. After World War II, the military sold off thousands of excess jeeps, and the brand name lives on to this day.

Arnold said the 1033 Program puts all kinds of surplus property on its website, which can be anything from folding chairs to helicopters. Defense Department bases are their own self-contained communities, and all government owned items that are no longer needed are up for grabs. That may include exercise equipment, office equipment, refrigerators or furniture.

“If your mind can think of it, it comes through our agency,” Arnold said.

Weapons are also available, including M16 rifles, M14 rifles and .45 caliber handguns. An agency can obtain virtually new rifles and convert them to law enforcement specifications for as little as $40 each, he said. Small boats, night vision goggles and fixed-wing aircraft are also dispensed with. He recently offered 800 single-man mosquito-proof pup tents.

There are some caveats. The agency must take the equipment as is. It must also arrange to pick the items up within two weeks. If there is something available on a base in Japan or South Korea, for example, a recipient probably should not make a request for it. The program website allows for regional searches, though. Agencies can look for surplus in their general vicinity. Also, the recipients are not allowed to sell, dispose of or trade away anything with defensive or offensive capabilities. If they no longer need such items, they can return them to the DLA.

The program is for agencies with the powers to make arrests. If firefighters or other first responders want to obtain a robot, there is the separate 1706 Program for them, he said.

The office, headquartered in Battle Creek, Mich., fielded more than 115,000 requests last fiscal year and distributed $498 million worth of equipment, he said. More than 11,000 agencies in all 50 states have signed up for the program.

Aircraft are in high demand, and agencies will be put on a wait list. But that isn’t the case for Humvees. There are so many of those surplus vehicles in the inventory, the Defense Department is crushing them for scrap.

“If you want a Humvee, I can almost guarantee you will get it,” he said.

Two technologies made famous in the overseas conflicts are on hold, though. Mine-resistant ambush protected trucks were rushed into the field to protect troops from roadside bombs. The military will undoubtedly have a surplus of the heavily armored trucks since they were built for specific circumstances and may not be needed in future conflicts. But there has not been any decision on what will become of them, he said. Law enforcement departments that want armored personnel carriers may have to wait.

Police agencies are also said to be keenly interested in unmanned aerial vehicles. The Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines fly a variety of drones — large and small. Most small jurisdictions can’t afford to fly and maintain fixed-wing or rotary wing aircraft to conduct overhead surveillance.

However, if they want a free UAV, they may have to wait. The DLA is waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to produce regulations that allow them to fly in national airspace, Arnold said.

That day may be coming soon. The recent FAA reauthorization bill mandated that the agency speed up its rulemaking processes for police and public safety agencies.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Ground Vehicles

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