PORTLAND, Ore. --
In November 2020, the 142nd Security Forces Squadron (SFS) acquired a much needed tool set and capability to address a potential and serious threat to the installation. The tool is a device called the police bumper grappler which is designed to deploy, attach to, and disable a vehicle that poses a threat to installation safety or security.
In recent years, the world has seen an increase in vehicle-related violence, typically wherein adversaries use a vehicle as a weapon by physically driving into crowds of people, causing death and injury. This brand of violence is commonly referred to as “vehicle contact” terrorism.
The uptick in these kind of attacks affects the safety of individuals all over the world. The safety and security of military bases is also at risk from attacks such as this. The risk to human life, infrastructure, and security these attacks pose is something that SFS must learn to anticipate and intercept effectively.
Until recently, the 142nd SFS had limited means to stop a vehicle that has failed to stop, for whatever reason, upon request or indication. If a vehicle failed to stop for on-base law enforcement, a tactic known as a PIT (Precision Immobilization Technique) maneuver could be implemented.
A PIT maneuver is performed by making contact with the side of the vehicle, causing the driver to lose control and skid to a stop. SFS could also shoot at the vehicle to disable it, if the situation and the risk involved warranted it. Both of these measures are potentially very dangerous to surrounding people and infrastructure.
The 142nd SFS commander, Lt. Col. Ryan Barton says that the problem with these tactics is that there’s no middle ground between requesting the driver to stop and employing measures that involve a lot of inherent risk.
“We were looking for something to have as a capability to stop, prevent, or intervene in a safe manner, to give us a tool set in between something like, ‘stop because we told you so’ and ‘you didn’t stop and are presenting a threat to the installation and now we have to make lethal force decisions.’ There’s not a whole lot in the middle,” said Barton.
The process of acquiring new equipment and implementing new measures and practices has historically been a very long and arduous one for the U. S. Air Force. Necessary steps involve extensive research, risk assessment, and cost analysis, to name a few. This typically takes around 5-10 years from start to finish. The obvious problem is that this doesn’t provide a timely solution.
There is a need in situations such as these to operate at the speed of relevance. High stakes threats demand a level of expediency when it comes to finding and establishing counter measures, that’s why, for the 142nd SFS, the process of obtaining a tool set to address this problem was done a little differently.
There was a need not only to expedite the process for the sake of addressing the problem in a timely manner, there was also a need to put the process in the hands of capable personnel at the unit level in order to most efficiently accomplish the objective at hand.
As the world around us changes, the Air Force must learn to evolve and expand their capabilities quickly in order to remain relevant and ready to fight and defend. This is the sentiment conveyed in Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown, Jr.’s 'Accelerate Change or Lose'.
In this letter to Airmen across the force, Brown hits on the necessity of a culture change across the force, part of which calls for putting capable Airmen, regardless of rank, in positions of higher impact.
“We must empower Airmen at all levels, delegating to the lowest capable and competent level possible, mindful that with empowerment and trust comes accountability,” says Brown.
This approach allows for more free flow of ideas and possibilities for solutions and practices to be implemented outside of the realm that traditional practice tends to confine units to, enabling and enhancing greater levels of innovation across the force.
To obtain the grappler capability, the 142nd SFS worked from the squadron level up, partnering with a private owner who had developed this technology over the past few years.
Barton, who served as the 9th SFS commander at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. from 2017-2020, discovered the private seller when he was attending the FBI National Academy in 2017. The product was featured in a presentation on emerging technologies in the field during one of his classes.
Shortly after returning to his duty station, the Air Force pushed innovation funds to each installation. Barton seized the opportunity by submitting the unit to receive funding in order to pursue this capability. The 9th SFS was selected to receive the funds two weeks later.
In the time between submitting for the funds and receiving an answer, Barton and his team gathered additional data, had a legal review of the grappler accomplished, worked with the contracting squadron to build a contract with the vendor, and worked with the logistics readiness squadron to coordinate installation. Approximately one month after taking the initial steps, the company was at the base installing the grappler.
When the 142nd SFS acquired the grappling hook in November of 2020, it made Portland Air National Guard Base the first Air National Guard base, and the second base in the Department of Defense (DoD) to obtain this capability.
The system is simple to operate and has a low profile. It’s attached to the front bumper of law enforcement vehicles and is operated by three switches. One turns the system on, one deploys the system, and one releases the tether. The apparatus functions in close proximity to the fleeing vehicle. When the net attaches itself to the wheels, it seizes rotation, bringing the vehicle to an eventual halt.
This method of intervention effectively limits the amount of damage that can be done by a vehicle that is a threat to the safety or security of an installation without escalating lethality, and with it, risk, making Portland Air National Guard Base safer and more secure.
Barton and the 142nd Wing as a whole consider this newly acquired capability a success.
“It’s my hope as a security forces commander and even just as a person that the career field takes this capability or something similar and fields it to all the units because it’s a phenomenal tool, “ said Barton. “It does cover down on the capability gap and provides a great innovation- I hope it goes beyond Portland Air National Guard Base.”