IED use expands throughout the globe

Friday, April 01, 2011

The improvised explosive device (IED) while small has a strategic influence and will continue to be the weapon of choice for small-budget organizations that want to influence governments, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Mitchell Howell, deputy director for rapid acquisition and Technology for the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

"IEDs are here to stay, and they will not go away, and they will be the bane of large military forces for quite some time to come," Howell said while speaking Jan. 30 at the Reserve Officers Associations first National Security Symposium in Washington. "The enemy or any potential enemy is looking at what happens with IEDs."

Globalization of the economy, media, communications, and social and criminal networks has led the world to become more inter-dependent because people and organizations are better informed, Howell said. The result is the "have nots" want what the "haves" have, and they look for ways to influence governments.

"They don’t have large budgets to do that with, and they don’t have large armies to do that with," Howell said. "They need to do it with something that’s small, inexpensive and effective for their means. Therefore their weapon of choice is the IED."

The battleground spans the entire globe as there are between 200 and 300 IED events a month throughout the world – not just in Iraq and Afghanistan – that result in people being killed or wounded, he said.

In addition to the low cost, IEDs appeal because it allows for an asymmetric attack where the enemy picks the location so it’s not a force-on-force fight, Howell said. The people using IEDs are also not "dumb guys" – they are continuously thinking, learning and adapting.

"It is a very small, very inexpensive tactical weapon, but the bottom line is it can have significant strategic influence because it’s designed to produce casualties and change the folks in the country that sent the troops or the folks that are, in their view, imposing the difficulty on their society," Howell said.

The line of operation in defeating IEDs begins first with attacking the networks that fund and supply them, Howell said. However, the best tool has been teaching troops to recognize situations and telltale signs where IEDs are placed.

"We’ve gotten the biggest bang for the buck out of training our guys and gals what IEDs are, what the conditions are," he said. "Rubble, disturbed earth, no civilians around in a built up area – you’d be surprised once you start knowing what to look for, you can start looking for those things and pick them up."

While he noted the IED effectiveness in both Iraq and Afghanistan decreased from July to December, he said it’s too early to tell exactly what led to that trend. Because of the adaptive nature of the enemy, it’s difficult to get caught up on one specific practice – JIEDDO needs to continue to advance technology so they are "looking over the next hill" and staying in a proactive mode.

Because of the demand for IED solutions, test schedules are accelerated, which drives up costs, Howell said.

But Congress has recognized the impact of JIEDDO, and he doesn’t expect funding issues in the future. They have also been getting significant support from industry.

"We have colorless money and we can use it in any manner we see to bring counter-IED solutions to the Department [of Defense] as quickly as possible," he said.

Adding, "Our perspective is that if we can’t find it, we’re going to invent it because our mission is to save lives."

For the immediate future, JIEDDO is looking at hand-held items for dismounted soldiers, IED-detecting dogs, ground sensors that can detect where digging has taken place, and smaller robots for off-road insertions into hard-to-access places like culverts and gutters.

One of the biggest technological challenges JIEDDO is looking at is improving standoff – recognizing both personnel- and vehicle-borne IED threats from as far away as possible.