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Border wall models stop commandos in tests

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Published: January 19, 2018, 10:54pm

SAN DIEGO — Recent assaults by tactical teams on prototypes of President Donald Trump’s proposed wall with Mexico indicate their imposing heights should stop border crossers, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the rigorous assessment told The Associated Press.

Military special forces based in Florida and U.S. Customs and Border Protection special units spent three weeks trying to breach and scale the eight models in San Diego, using jackhammers, saws, torches and other tools and climbing devices, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not authorized for public release.

A Customs and Border Protection report on the tests identifies strengths and flaws of each design but does not pick an overall winner or rank them, though it does point to see-through steel barriers topped by concrete as the best overall design, the official said.

The report recommends combining elements of each, depending on terrain. The official likened it to a Lego design, pulling pieces from different prototypes.

Carlos Diaz, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said the agency is still in “the testing phase” and that results are being evaluated. He said combining elements of different prototypes instead of picking a winner is consistent with previous statements by officials. He noted that the agency said in its bidding guidelines that a minimum height of 18 feet would be a key characteristic. He said he did not have additional details on test results.

Contractors were awarded between $300,000 and $500,000 for each prototype. Prototypes were built last fall to guide future construction of one of Trump’s signature campaign pledges. Four were concrete and four were made of other materials.

Ronald Vitiello, the agency’s acting deputy commissioner, said after visiting the prototypes in October that he was struck most by the 30-foot heights, which are significantly higher than existing barriers. Taller barriers are undoubtedly more effective, but whether the cost is justified will be up for debate.

The testers scaled 16 to 20 feet unassisted but needed help after that, said the official who described tests.

Only once did a tester manage to land a hook on top of the wall without help, the official said. Tubes atop some models repelled climbing devices but wouldn’t work in more mountainous areas because the terrain is too jagged.

The report favors steel at ground level because agents can see what is happening on the other side and holes can more easily be patched, the official said. With concrete, large slabs have to be replaced for even small breaches, which is time-consuming and expensive.

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