U.S. troops in Iraq have only a small number of jammers to defeat roadside bombs.
Despite the growing carnage caused by strategically placed roadside bombs in Iraq, the Defense Department has fielded only a small number of radio-signal jammers designed to stop devices set off by a variety of remote control systems, including garage door openers and toy receivers.
In the past year, the Army's Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom) has awarded three contracts to EDO, for a total value of $61.1 million, to build jammers for what Pentagon officials call improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The jammers have been code-named Warlock Green and Warlock Red.
But a spokeswoman for Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said only a small number of jammers have actually been sent to Iraq.
The spokeswoman could not say how many jammers have been bought or sent to Iraq because Pentagon officials consider the information classified. But, she added, the number of jammers in the hands of troops in Iraq is small. Cecom officials did not respond to queries from Federal Computer Week.
DOD officials have provided little information about the Warlock series of jammers, such as how they work or what each unit costs. However, it is known that the jammers are based on EDO's Shortstop Electronic Protection System, developed during the first Gulf War to counter artillery shells that use radio proximity fuzes.
According to an EDO fact sheet, Shortstop detects signals from such weapons and sends back a modified signal indicating that the fuze is close to the ground and causing the weapon to detonate prematurely.
EDO officials say the company has delivered 288 Shortstop units to the Army. They come in backpack, vehicle-mounted and stand-alone configurations. Some troops have used Shortstop systems as jammers in Iraq, including the 1st Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery, which used several vehicle-mounted devices while patrolling around the Baghdad airport earlier this year.
According to an article in the July issue of Air Defense Artillery magazine, the Shortstop systems can be programmed to jam a specific range of frequencies to defeat IEDs and even suicide bombers wearing explosives. The Army's fiscal 2004 budget included $46 million for Shortstop systems, but the Army's fiscal 2005 budget includes no such funding, despite the systems' apparent success against IEDs.
During their tours in Iraq, soldiers have discovered that a variety of devices are used to trigger IEDs, including wireless doorbells, car alarm remotes, remote control toy receivers and remote control garage door openers.
Army units that would seem most in need of IED jammers, such as transportation companies that operate daily convoys in Iraq, have not been furnished with the systems. Capt. Eric Hedlund, a transportation platoon commander with the New Mexico Army National Guard's 720th Transportation Company, said he never saw or heard of an IED jammer during his 15-month tour in Iraq, which ended in August.
"This is a new technology that everyone would like to have," Hedlund said. His unit's convoy operation covered 3.5 million miles in Iraq, and during his tour, he encountered IEDs "more often than I even want to remember," he said.
Taylor, who rode in an armored Humvee equipped with an IED jammer when he visited Iraq, believes such protection should be extended to all the troops.
"A jammer costs about $10,000, and it probably costs about $10,000 to bury a dead GI," Taylor said in a statement. He added, "I believe Americans would rather spend the $10,000 to prevent the GI's funeral from being held."
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