WASHINGTON — What in the world is the U.S. military going to do with all of its surplus Humvees? For the first time, it will auction off as many as 4,000 of the workhorse vehicles for sale to the public, instead of scrapping them.

Even as controversy churns over the Pentagon's transfer of military equipment to local civilian police departments, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) sent the first batch to auction through IronPlanet's GovPlanet.com. Since bidding started at $10,000 a couple of weeks ago, pent up demand has yielded bids on nearly all of the Humvees — selling for off-road use only.

"We definitely see lots of interest, and we're certainly excited to have the opportunity to sell these," said Randy Berry, IronPlanet's senior vice president for operations and services. "These items have been scrapped up to now ... so it's a win for the taxpayers and everybody involved here."

Sitting on a dusty lot at Hill Air Force Base in Utah are 25 Humvees built between 1987 and the mid-1990s, some with visible wear and patchy camouflage paint jobs, and whose odometer readings range from 1,361 to 38,334. The public will have the chance to bid on them in a live online action on Dec. 17 and take home a Humvee that once served as a troop or cargo carrier.

DLA will have some 4,000 Humvees considered surplus inspected for defects — and so long as they're not taken or have military characteristics, like armor — they will be offered to IronPlanet. Before the restrictions had been lifted, they might have been scrapped.

"We know that there are thousands going through the screening process now, and some will be claimed by states and local governments, and anything not claimed will go through for public sale, through our marketplace," Berry said. "We expect to have a steady stream of those available over time."

AM General, which has manufactured more than 300,000 Humvees since the Army adopted them in 1985, has made no secret of its opposition to the sale of military Humvees to the general public — which had heretofore been restricted by the government.

The company's website says it sells parts or service information only to its military customers, and not for vehicles that "wind up in civilian hands." AM General "opposes any use of these military vehicles by individuals or entities outside of the military context for which the vehicles are designed."

The surplus sales could be viewed as competition for the company, which manufactured the civilian "Hummer" from 1992 to 2010, and debuted a civilian "Humvee C-Series" kit in 2013 for the base price of $60,000, without a power train.

Restrictions on the M908, M908A1, M1038, and M1038A1 model Humvees — which are out of military use — were lifted by the US State and Commerce departments in the last year or so, clearing the way for DLA. Beyond the military, surplus Humvees had only been available to fire and police departments in the 1033 program, the one facing widespread criticism and congressional scrutiny of late over the militarization of local law enforcement.

"With cooperation from other government offices, DLA Disposition Services can now make some military vehicles into assets instead of having to send them to be scrapped," DLA public affairs chief Michelle McCaskill said in an emailed response to questions about the Humvee auctions.

In July, DLA awarded IronPlanet a two-year contract to manage and sell DLA's rolling stock surplus assets, valued at $50-$70 million annually, with a bid equal to 75.29 percent of revenue share to the DLA. (Liquidity Services, Inc., filed a protest that was since denied.)

IronPlanet has since held three auctions from the stock, which includes cargo trucks, tractor trucks, utility trailers, forklifts, construction equipment. After the holidays, it plans to continue weekly auctions for the items, some including the Humvees, which are at more than 60 military sites around the country.

"You can bid any time prior to the auction itself," Berry said. "We structure ours like events, with all these items selling today, and then a live format, where instead of the auction just concluding anonymously, you get to watch all the items selling."

Winners must pay within three days, sign an agreement indemnifying IronPlanet and arrange for transportation, as the vehicles are not considered roadworthy. IronPlanet helpfully offers detailed inspection reports, with photos, and referrals to transport companies.

"We anticipate there are plenty of interested bidders out there," Berry said, "and plenty of off-road uses for these vehicles."

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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