Task Force Targets Human Network Behind IEDs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., March 10, 2011 — What start­ed as a super-secret pro­gram to pro­tect ground troops in Iraq from road­side bombs has matured into a cov­et­ed asset in Afghanistan, where it pro­vides a per­sis­tent sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ty against ene­my threats, an offi­cial who pro­vid­ed materiel sup­port for the pro­gram report­ed.
Task Force ODIN was estab­lished in 2006 to help in coun­ter­ing the impro­vised explo­sive devices that were tak­ing a huge toll on U.S. forces in Iraq. ODIN, also the name of a Norse god of war, is an acronym describ­ing the task force’s counter-IED mis­sion: observe, detect, iden­ti­fy and neu­tral­ize.

Offi­cials rec­og­nized ear­ly on that sim­ply iden­ti­fy­ing and defus­ing IEDs was only part of the solu­tion, Richard Wittstruck, chief engi­neer for the Army’s Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office for Intel­li­gence, Elec­tron­ic War­fare and Sen­sors here, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Service. 

“We can nev­er for­get that the device itself is not the threat,” he said. “It’s the tool used by the threat. So we have to address the tool. But if we don’t also address the threat, then they just come up with a dif­fer­ent tool.” 

So ODIN focused on the human net­work behind the IED threat, from the peo­ple who design and deliv­er them to the ones who cache them and give the det­o­na­tion orders. 

“You want to get as far left of the boom as you can,” Wittstruck said. “You want to get past the emplace­ment cycle back into the tran­sit cycle, back into the con­nec­tion cycle, all the way back to the plan­ning cycle, if you can. And then you want to cut it off there so that they don’t get the rest of those steps in place. And Task Force ODIN pro­vides that capability.” 

Wittstruck and his team, along with their col­leagues at Army Mate­r­i­al Com­mand, were respon­si­ble for design­ing, devel­op­ing, pro­duc­ing, field­ing and sus­tain­ing the ele­ments of Task Force ODIN. They include a fam­i­ly of manned and unmanned aer­i­al plat­forms, their sen­sors, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions data links used to trans­mit the infor­ma­tion they col­lect and the ground-sta­tion oper­a­tions where ana­lysts turn that infor­ma­tion into intelligence. 

The sys­tem proved high­ly suc­cess­ful after being acti­vat­ed in Iraq in 2007. Two years lat­er, Task Force ODIN brought this new capa­bil­i­ty to Afghanistan to shore up gaps in the intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance assets sup­port­ing ground troops there. 

Army Maj. John Bay­nard was com­man­der of Bra­vo Com­pa­ny, 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 214th Avi­a­tion Regiment’s flight com­pa­ny dur­ing that first rota­tion in Afghanistan. 

Fly­ing King Air 300 medi­um-alti­tude recon­nais­sance sys­tem air­craft over sweep­ing areas of Region­al Com­mand East and Region­al Com­mand South, his sol­diers pro­vid­ed valu­able com­mu­ni­ca­tions and sig­nals intel­li­gence as well as full-motion video of areas of inter­est. Mean­while, var­i­ous unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cle plat­forms aug­ment­ed their efforts. 

“Uti­liz­ing our high tech­nol­o­gy, Task Force ODIN coor­di­nat­ed with ground forces to neu­tral­ize numer­ous high-val­ue tar­gets,” Bay­nard said in a PEO-IEW&S video. “Tar­gets ranged from financiers of insur­gent activ­i­ties to kid­nap­pers, mon­ey laun­der­ers and guys who per­formed indi­rect-fire oper­a­tions on coali­tion bases.” 

In addi­tion to tak­ing high-val­ue tar­gets off the bat­tle­field, Bay­nard said, his com­pa­ny also pro­vid­ed ground forces ear­ly warn­ing of ene­my activ­i­ty in their oper­at­ing areas. It’s “an essen­tial capa­bil­i­ty for coali­tion forces against an adapt­able ene­my,” he said. 

Since its first deploy­ment, ODIN has matured to the point that it now pro­vides per­sis­tent sur­veil­lance over vast geo­graph­ic areas. “They are sur­veilling across wide areas of real estate, look­ing for indi­ca­tions of insur­gent activ­i­ty, and then inform­ing a com­man­der in a near-real-time oper­a­tion of what the threat and sit­u­a­tion is so he can be more effec­tive in his maneu­vers,” Wittstruck said. 

ODIN’s over­watch capa­bil­i­ty makes it pos­si­ble to tip off maneu­ver com­man­ders about any­thing from move­ment along a spe­cif­ic goat trail to unusu­al activ­i­ties that might indi­cate ene­my oper­a­tions under way or being planned, Wittstruck said. 

For exam­ple, a local mar­ket­place typ­i­cal­ly is packed at about 3 every after­noon as fam­i­lies shop for their din­ners. What does it mean when, for some unex­plain­able rea­son, it’s emp­ty one afternoon? 

“That’s an indi­ca­tor that maybe some­body on the ground wants to be noti­fied so they can go seek out and find what it is the locals know that we don’t know about that mar­ket­place today, or what is about to hap­pen at that mar­ket­place,” Wittstruck said. 

One of Task Force ODIN’s biggest tri­umphs, he said, is the “true sen­sor-to-shoot­er con­nec­tiv­i­ty” it pro­vides as it deliv­ers action­able intel­li­gence to ground forces and warns them of unknown threats. ODIN pro­vides that con­nec­tiv­i­ty, he said, sav­ing lives and improv­ing troops’ com­bat effectiveness. 

Wittstruck said he’s par­tic­u­lar­ly proud of the speed with which Defense Depart­ment offi­cials fast-tracked fund­ing and devel­op­ment process­es and intro­duced the force struc­ture changes and train­ing need­ed to deliv­er Task Force ODIN to the com­bat theater. 

“This shows that as a coun­try and as a coali­tion, we can be agile in a time of war to respond to a threat,” he said. “Task Force ODIN is a tes­ta­ment to that.” 

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

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