Pentagon to spend $350 million on next-generation jammer

Congressional and defense-industry interest in thwarting the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq continues to escalate, with a focus on technologies designed to jam these homemade bombs.

While the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, has stressed that jammers are not a “silver bullet” solution to the IED problem, a broad swath of defense companies is expected to vie for a shot at producing the Pentagon’s next set of jamming equipment.

Roughly 400 defense-industry executives representing several hundred companies showed up for an industry day sponsored by the Army late last year. Dozens of companies are expected to throw their hats into the ring by the end of this month to compete for a contract worth as much as $350 million to develop next-generation IED jammers.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Rodney said the service plans to test the potential jammers between March and May. By June, the Army will select a technology.

“Hopefully then we will move into production as fast as possible,” Rodney said.

During the competition, the Army hopes to find a technology that can jam a wide array of remote-controlled IEDs, which can be detonated by everything from garage-door openers to cell phones.

“We are looking for one jammer to do it all,” Rodney said.

Until now, the military has been using a number of jammers and other equipment in Iraq, including the Warlock electronic countermeasure system developed by EDO Corp., a New York-based company specializing in high-tech niche products. The company has won roughly $125 million in contracts over the past year to produce hundreds of the Warlock systems.

The ultimate goal of the Warlock, the next-generation jammer and other efforts to defeat IEDs is to stay one step ahead of the enemy, military officials have said.

“We can produce jammers today that work the problem that we had yesterday but will have no effect on the problem we’re going to see around the corner because we have a thinking adversary who moves their capability around,” Myers said during a March 10 House Armed Services Committee hearing. “So what we’re trying to do is get ahead of the problem — specifically jammers — so we can deal with this.”

In a separate competition, the Pentagon asked the defense industry earlier this month for a wide range of capabilities in eight different areas, from early detection of these roadside bombs to next-generation body armor and other blast-protection equipment, The Hill reported last week. The military will spend roughly $55.5 million to research and develop technologies in those areas.

Meanwhile, members of the Joint IED Task Force, organized last July by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to solve the roadside-bomb problem, have been briefing members of Congress on the many programs that are under way.

This week, the task force planned to brief, among other lawmakers, Rep. Jim Saxton (N.J.), a senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, one task-force member said. The members also plan to meet with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee as a follow-up to a November briefing on IEDs.

Members of Congress have been pushing for more — and better — equipment to detect and defeat IEDs, which have long been considered the most common and deadly threat to American forces in Iraq. One congressman equated the long process of solving the IED problem with previous equipment concerns in Iraq.

“We went through this with body armor. We went through this with the Humvees,” Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said during the March 10 hearing. “What I’m asking is that we make the same sort of commitment on jammers so that the next units aren’t rotated into theater without having properly trained with this.”