Industry recruited to help thwart roadside bombs

The Pentagon is asking the defense industry for a sweeping set of solutions to counter the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that has emerged over the past two years as the biggest hazard to soldiers and civilians in Iraq.
The Pentagon is asking the defense industry for a sweeping set of solutions to counter the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that has emerged over the past two years as the biggest hazard to soldiers and civilians in Iraq.
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Improvised explosive devices have bedeviled the U.S. military’s mission in Iraq.


In a 36-page agency announcement released March 2, the Defense Department says it is looking for technologies and services in eight different areas — from early detection of these roadside bombs to next-generation body armor and other blast-protection equipment.

But unlike formal requests for proposals, the announcement stops short of detailing the counter-IED technologies the department wants, leaving the door open for industry to devise its own set of solutions to the complex problem.

So far, the Pentagon has spent $450 million through its Joint IED Task Force, an organization set up last July by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. The goal has been to find quick ways to detect and defeat the homemade devices, which have been notoriously difficult to thwart because insurgents can alter them as quickly as the military can field technologies to counter them.

“They’re hard to defeat,” Navy Secretary Gordon England said during a Feb. 17 House Armed Services Committee hearing. “This is an adaptable threat we have, so we’ve had a … variety of equipment to go work this problem.”

The task force plans to spend $1 billion more in the next 12 to 14 months on counter-IED technology, including $55.5 million issued through the March 2 announcement, one member of the task force said. Industry must submit proposals by April 4.

Until this point, the Pentagon has invested most of its counter-IED money into existing government and commercial technologies. But the task force now intends to invest research and development time and money into a new set of technologies.

The March 2 announcement specifies that the military is looking not only for near-term solutions to the IED problem but also for long-term capabilities, particularly in the area of explosives detection. More than one-third of the money issued through the announcement will be spent on R&D — whether on upgrading older technologies or developing new ones, the task-force member said.

“Early on, we looked for things off the shelf,” he said. “Now we’ve exhausted what’s readily available and we’re starting to look at research and development efforts to develop things.”

Still, time is of the essence, the task-force member said. Technologies that industry can develop and turn around quickly — and send to the field as soon as possible — will be given priority.

Military officials have noticed that the IEDs used in Iraq are becoming more and more crude as the most effective bombers have been killed or captured, Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said during a March 8 Pentagon press conference.

Still, many IED attacks are effective — and kill U.S. troops and civilians in Iraq, making it a problem that continues to plague the military.

The IED threat continues to be a critical issue on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers pushing the Pentagon to field more — and more effective — countertechnologies. In recent hearings, some lawmakers still were critical of the department’s efforts.

“There is technology to prevent the detonation of most of the improvised explosive devices that exist. We’ve allocated money for it,” Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said during a Feb. 16 House Armed Services Committee hearing. “And yet that number remains classified … not because the insurgents don’t know how few [troops] are protected but because I’m of the opinion the American people would be appalled if they knew how few are protected.”

The task-force member confirmed that the numbers of fielded counter-IED technologies is classified. However, he stressed that troops have received electronic countermeasures, robots and detection and surveillance devices to combat the threat. The military also is working on detecting suicide bombers and targeting the organizational structure of bomb makers in Iraq.