If you watched American Sniper you might have noticed the differences in the equipment U.S. forces employed between Chris Kyle’s first and fourth deployments to the war zone. In his early tours Kyle and U.S. forces moved around in unarmored Humvees, many of which didn’t even have a protected turret for the gunner performing security. By his fourth tour in Iraq, the scene of Kyle’s unit leaving their compound had them moving in armored Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, both equipped with improvised explosive device (IED) jammers. Movie goers have Clint Eastwood to thank for this bit of cinema accuracy.
U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and the U.S. defense industry to thank for a massive and fairly successful effort to counter this threat. Some $25 billion was spent equipping U.S. forces in theater with MRAPs and the somewhat smaller and lighter MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle. Billions more were spent on IED detectors and a variety of airborne, vehicle mounted and man portable jamming devices not only by JIEDDO but by other parts of the Pentagon.
Over time, as a result of a comprehensive campaign against the IED threat, U.S. and coalition losses to these devices dropped by more than half. The jamming campaign was particularly successful against remote-controlled (RC) IEDs, the kind that allowed the insurgents to standoff from the device and detonate it at the most propitious time. This is a measure of control that is important to the attacker. The terrorists used RC triggers as backups for vehicle-borne IEDs and even some suicide bombers to ensure that the person driving or carrying the bomb didn’t get cold feet at the last second. Especially in Afghanistan, the enemy was left having to use the simplest of devices, pressure detonated IEDs with virtually no metal in them.
With the end of the U.S. presence in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan it should come as no surprise that the IED threat in general and the RCIED, in particular, is back. ISIS is reported to make extensive use of both vehicle-borne devices and suicide bombers, sometimes as the opening salvo in a ground attack on enemy positions. One reason that U.S. Central Command has been so diffident about the timing of the campaign to retake Mosul is concern regarding the level of training and equipment available to Iraqi forces for dealing with IEDs in an urban environment.
The Pentagon is continuing to work the IED problem. It is focused, particularly, on detecting at standoff ranges devices, precursor materials and even the electric wires leading from an IED. JIEDDO invented the concept of defeating the IED network by tracking down the bomb makers, transporters, financiers and material suppliers. With every new terrorist group, the networks change.
Although the current focus of the counter IED effort rests largely on the relatively simple and harder to detect pressure-triggered devices, it is important that the U.S. military continues to maintain its sophistication in jamming RCIEDs. Absent an effective jamming capability, RCIEDs are likely to be the preferred weapon for terrorist organizations. They allow a measure of control and a degree of reliability not present with devices that aren’t command detonated.
The U.S. needs to make sure that its allies in the fight against ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations are properly equipped with both detectors and RCIED jammers. It stands to reason that where jammers are not present, RCIEDs will re-emerge on the battlefield. In addition, as commercial technology changes, so too will the RCIEDs. This means that jammers will have to evolve too. So maintaining an R&D effort to modernize our jamming capability makes a lot of sense.
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