Issue Date: October 11, 2004
DoD task force aims to defuse growing threat
Roadside bombers in Iraq have proven elusive, quick to adapt
By Megan Scully
Special to the Times
After pouring billions of dollars into systems that defeat high-tech weapons, the military is scrambling to combat a far less sophisticated threat: roadside bombs.
In Iraq, no weapon has been as deadly as these bombs, which cause roughly 90 percent of the Army’s casualties there each month, said Gen. Richard Cody, Army vice chief of staff, during a Sept. 13 luncheon speech. Between 500 and 600 improvised explosive devices go off each month in Iraq, and roughly half of those kill or injure American personnel or damage vehicles.
“This has become the weapon of choice,” Cody said in his Association of the United States Army speech. “We have a Manhattan-like project right now [in] trying to solve this problem.”
As the operation in Iraq has gone on, insurgents have altered the bombs and their tactics for employing them, adapting quickly to some U.S. countermeasures and changes in military strategy.
Top Army officials say technology alone won’t do the trick. To prevent the bombs from striking, officials are gathering intelligence on the enemy while altering their tactics, techniques and procedures to more effectively locate the bombs and their makers.
“It’s a full-court press,” Cody said. “We know we’re going to be fighting IEDs for a long time to come.”
‘Identify and neutralize’
The threat has grabbed the attention of the Pentagon’s top leaders, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who started a joint task force in July to study ways to defeat IEDs. The task force is modeled after a similar group the Army stood up last year.
The 83-member task force is essentially launching a widespread “campaign against the IED threat,” said one task force member. It includes input from the other services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the CIA and the FBI.
Other countries that have dealt with terrorist threats for years, including England and Israel, also are sharing their insights. The goal is to “identify and neutralize” enemy leaders, suppliers, trainers, enablers and others responsible for using IEDs against coalition forces in Iraq, according to a Sept. 10 two-page task force information paper. At the same time, task force members are identifying materiel and nonmateriel solutions to counter IEDs one by one.
“We found the enemy to be very adaptive, very intelligent, always watching us and learning from our response to their attacks,” a task force member said. “As we are trying to learn about them, they are trying to learn about us. We continually have to be searching for a new solution in an attempt to stay ahead of the decision cycle.”
The task force has not yet identified a “single silver bullet out there that can stop this threat,” the task force member said. “As we find some solutions that may address a particular type of weapon they’re using, a particular tactic, they shift, find new ways to do things.”
The Warlock system
Perhaps one of the most effective technology solutions has been the Warlock electronic countermeasure system, 700 of which have been sent to Iraq to neutralize the roadside bombs, said Thomas Killion, the Army’s chief scientist. Similar systems also are in use in Afghanistan.
However, the Defense Department has struggled to establish the industrial base for these systems. EDO, a New York-based firm specializing in high-tech products, was the only company to bid on a $35 million contract to produce 1,000 Warlock systems. And until recently, it was the only company capable of such a task — preventing mass production of the life-saving systems.
But now that the system has been developed and several hundred produced, the Army plans to tap another three to five companies to build it, enabling the service to take more to the field, said Edward Bair, an Army program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors. Defense officials were reluctant to comment on the specifics of the Warlock system and asked that details not be printed, citing operational security concerns.
But Bair said the system features an “adaptable” countermeasure architecture that, so far, the enemy has been unable to defeat. Also in the works are “change detector” sensors for unmanned aerial vehicles. UAV program officials are seeking payloads and software that can be added to monitor roadways and report any changes back to soldiers.
Still testing the options
So far, the Army has tested several technologies but has not found one that works well enough to deploy, a top UAV official said this summer. Most UAV technologies can survey areas for changes, but typically they are effective only in dealing with objects far larger than IEDs.
The goal, officials say, is to detect and defeat IEDs before they detonate. “If you touch the stove and you burn your finger, then you are immediately into taking care of your burn. That’s one approach,” Bair said. “The other approach is … to avoid it in the first place.”
The IED task force’s evaluation and integration team is hunting for other technologies the Army can field quickly to tackle the threat, according to the information paper. In some cases, task force members are working with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force to buy new systems and get them to the field.
The IED task force includes several other teams, including field teams sent to Iraq to identify technologies as well as areas where training and tactics should be changed.
Information on lessons gleaned from particular incidents or any input on changes in enemy tactics or technologies is sent to the Army’s Center for Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where IED task force members and military officials rapidly adapt the Army’s strategic response. Major training and technique changes can be made as quickly as 24 hours and rarely take longer than three or four days to turn around, the task force member said.
“We train with stuff that just was seen yesterday,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy Livsey, deputy commanding general at Fort Leavenworth’s Combined Arms Center.
“We’re looking for rapid solutions … to save lives. We are not looking at long-range programs,” the task force member said.
“We are trying to stop the killing and the bleeding now.”
Fantastic, can't wait to see more systems come online
Technology to the rescue!