Afghanistan — Combined Strategies, Technologies Help IED Fight

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2010 — As the num­ber of impro­vised explo­sive device attacks ris­es in Afghanistan, a com­bi­na­tion of strate­gies and tech­nolo­gies are being used to halt the harm they cause to troops and civil­ians, Army Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates said this week.

Sangin, Afghanistan
Smoke bil­lows into the air after U.S. Marines det­o­nate an impro­vised explo­sive device dur­ing a secu­ri­ty patrol in San­gin, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2010.
U.S. Marine Corps pho­to by Lance Cpl. Jorge A. Ortiz
Click to enlarge

Oates, direc­tor of the Joint IED Defeat Orga­ni­za­tion, known as JIEDDO, spoke with reporters dur­ing a Dec. 6 brief­ing at the For­eign Press Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton.
“We are essen­tial­ly attempt­ing to find a fer­til­iz­er-based bomb, so it has very low or no metal­lic con­tent, and it is buried in an unim­proved road, in the dirt,” Oates said.

Mil­i­tary-grade muni­tions are hard­er to come by in Afghanistan than they are in Iraq, he said, and an abun­dance of fer­til­iz­er is avail­able for use in home­made explo­sives. “It’s eas­i­er and it works,” Oates said, “so there’s no par­tic­u­lar rea­son to change that mod­el.” But detect­ing fer­til­iz­er-based devices “requires a very sophis­ti­cat­ed com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors,” he added.

Met­al detec­tors don’t work against these crude but effi­cient devices, which have risen from only a few in the first sev­en years of the war in Afghanistan to 1,300 to 1,400 events a month over the past 18 months, as the num­ber of coali­tion troops has surged there. Instead, Oates said, coali­tion forces have had some suc­cess in detect­ing the residue of home­made explo­sives before they are buried under­ground.

“Dogs are very suc­cess­ful at locat­ing most forms of explo­sives, and so we have increased the num­ber of explo­sive-detec­tion dogs in the­ater,” he said. There are more unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles in Afghanistan now than there ever were in Iraq, Oates said, not­ing the “sig­nif­i­cant vol­ume of UAVs” in the air there with remote-sens­ing capa­bil­i­ty.

Air­borne plat­forms also can help detect dis­tur­bances in the earth that may give clues about the loca­tions of IEDs, he said. For exam­ple, if a com­mand wire is used in the IED det­o­na­tor, that may be detect­ed from the air.

Ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar also offers an abil­i­ty to see things buried beneath the sur­face. “We still have more work to go on that tech­nol­o­gy,” Oates said, “but it is pro­vid­ing some use­ful help.” A range of oth­er radars also are being explored to look for devices buried under­ground.

“What was new in Afghanistan this year was the intro­duc­tion of what we call per­sis­tent ground sur­veil­lance, PGS, and per­sis­tent threat detec­tion [sys­tem], PTDS,” Oates said. Per­sis­tent sur­veil­lance includes a range of func­tions, but the newest capa­bil­i­ties, he said, include a blimp that can rise to a height of about 3,000 feet with a long-range cam­era that watch­es the roads day and night through most weath­er con­di­tions. Cam­eras mount­ed on tow­ers do the same thing.

“We’ve put almost 50 of these sys­tems into the­ater and we have more com­ing,” Oates said. “All of these things are either cur­rent­ly in the­ater or mov­ing there as soon as we can get them there,” he added. But Oates said he doesn’t want to over­sell the abil­i­ty of tech­nol­o­gy alone to detect IEDs.

“This is a very dif­fi­cult bomb to detect using tech­nol­o­gy. We find that well-trained sol­diers armed with dogs tend to be the most effec­tive in find­ing IEDs, but they are facil­i­tat­ed with oth­er forms of tech­nol­o­gy,” he said.

“The air­borne plat­forms allow you to under­stand what is going on with­in the ene­my net­work and that’s help­ful to under­stand­ing where to look for the bomb. Our oth­er intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties allow us to do the same,” he said.

“But unless you employ all of these capa­bil­i­ties, it is very, very dif­fi­cult to find these explo­sives,” Oates said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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