Candice Miller for Congress, Michigan

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Returning Military Hardware Could See Use on Borders

by Candice Miller on November 17, 2011

As U.S. military forces prepare to draw down activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation presents an opportunity to put military equipment used for surveillance, communications and other tasks in the hands of border security and law enforcement agencies, officials said Tuesday.
“We have a historic opportunity, with the military drawdown,” said Paul N. Stockton, assistant Defense secretary for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs, during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.
Stockton said the Defense Department presents a “one-stop shopping opportunity” for domestic agencies in need of robotics, equipment for tracking and handling radiological materials and other technology they might not be otherwise able to afford. The department already has a loan-lease program that sets low prices for first-responders in need of improvised explosive device removal capabilities or expensive night vision equipment.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., said she wants to see border security agencies use military technology wherever applicable, to save on duplicative research and development spending.
“We should, certainly as a minimum, consider using DoD equipment here at home,” she said.
Department of Homeland Security officials, however, said adapting military hardware is often far from simple. Although the Arizona deserts that see the majority of illegal border crossings may seem like territory similar to Afghanistan, “the transition from battlefield to border is not as easy as it looks,” said Adam Cox, acting deputy director of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency.
“As much as we’d like to pick up those technologies that seem to suit our needs, we must be cautious,” he said.
The biggest problem comes down to a disparity of resources between Defense and Homeland Security. Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner of technology innovation and acquisition at Customs and Border Protection, said adapting self-contained technology is relatively easy. Complex systems are harder to integrate, particularly since the Defense Department frequently relies on satellite communications. For DHS agencies, persistent satellite communication is very expensive, he said.
Furthermore, he said, the Defense Department has many more resources for training and integration. Miller mentioned that border agencies could adopt military surveillance aerostats — blimplike balloons used for surveillance. But, Borkowski said, those require crews and have significant operating costs.
“Relatively complex systems require crew training,” he said.
Borkowski also disagreed with Miller’s contention that DHS should have a single point of contact at the Defense Department for identifying potentially useful technology.
“I do understand that there are these points of contact at the Department of Defense, but I have things that come to me outside of those chains,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want one strictly defined method of communication that could risk shutting down others.

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