The U.S. military's counter-IED agency is focusing on intelligence and robotics in the continuing fight against a critical threat to soldiers' lives.
Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have been the bane of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: lethal, difficult to detect and all too common.
As the defining weapon of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, IEDs killed 9,137 coalition troops, Afghan troops and civilians in Afghanistan in 2010, and 10,256 coalition troops, Iraqi troops and civilians in Iraq in 2010, according to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization’s 2010 annual report.
They’re also spreading beyond southwest Asia, averaging 260 IED events per month outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the report.
To deal with the daunting threat, JIEDDO is getting creative in the methods it’s employing to defeat IEDs, including the use of specialized intelligence focusing on IED source materials, and also robots being developed in conjunction with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
As many as 80 percent of IEDs in Afghanistan are made from ammonium nitrate originating from Pakistani fertilizer plants, said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, JIEDDO program executive officer. At a Land Warfare Institute briefing Nov. 10 in Arlington, Va., Barbero pushed for better intelligence that hones in on how the materials are getting from the plants in Pakistan into the hands of terrorists.
That increased focus on intelligence is proving fruitful already, but there’s still much progress that must be made, he said.
“From these two legally operating factories in Pakistan, we know where they are producing, we know who their distributors are -- and we are getting great support from them,” he said. “What we don't understand is how this ammonium nitrate gets from the factories to these insurgents. That’s the greatest intelligence gap we have.”
With that information, the military can track financial data – and can enlist in the Treasury and State departments to help, Barbero said.
DOD also is looking at another avenue of attack: robotic tools that can help dismounted troops investigate more safely. JIEDDO recently coordinated with NIST on a three-week testing exercise in which the performance of the six robots JIEDDO tested, and that of more than 80 that were previously tested at the same site by the Homeland Security Department.
“The intended outcome is to establish a baseline for performance in standard robotics functions,” Matt Way, program integrator, who oversaw the event for JIEDDO, said in a media release. “Ultimately, these exercises will reduce performance risk in theater.”