Saturday, September 29, 2007

The WaPo IED Report, Part I

According to the Washington Post, the IED jammers I've noticed coming down the appropriations pipeline (here and here) have been a huge part of explosive countermeasures in bothe Afghanistan and Iraq:

If no one foresaw that within four years more than 30,000 jammers of all sorts would be in Iraq, a few suspected that something big had started. "We're going to need a lot more jammers," Col. Bruce Jette, who commanded the Army's Rapid Equipping Force at Fort Belvoir, told a Fort Monmouth engineer in August 2003. "And eventually we're going to need a jammer on every vehicle."

The history of these jammers is actually pretty amazing and winds through extremely classified Secret Service projects to protect presidential motorcades to measures used by the Navy:

For decades, electronic countermeasures had been a vital part of airborne combat for Navy fliers. Submariners also considered it a "core mission," as did surface ship officers. "It's how I deal with cruise missiles coming at me," said Rear Adm. Arch Macy, commander of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Washington.

One of the article's more sobering moments is a series of statistics that shed light into just how pervasive the IED probably is in Iraq:

Yet U.S. strategists, who before the invasion failed to anticipate an insurgency, also drafted no comprehensive plans for securing thousands of munitions caches, now estimated to have held at least 650,000 tons and perhaps more than 1 million tons of explosives...

More than a year after the invasion "only 40 percent of Iraq's pre-war munitions inventory was secured or destroyed," the Congressional Research Service reported this summer.

Tens of thousands of tons probably were pilfered, U.S. government analysts believe. (If properly positioned, 20 pounds of high explosive can destroy any vehicle the Army owns.) The lax control would continue long after Hussein was routed: 10,000 or more blasting caps -- also vital to bombmaking -- vanished from an Iraqi bureau of mines storage facility in 2004, along with "thousands of kilometers" of detonation cord, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst.

(Emphasis added)

Think about that bolded parenthetical sentence for a second. That's an incredible neutralizing figure illustrated by this anecdote:

A large explosion along a roadbed near Balad in October of that year flung a 70-ton M1A2 Abrams tank down an embankment, shearing off the turret and killing two crewmen.

If those numbers aren't frightening enough the insurgents have also demonstrated a wily capacity to adapt on the battlefield:

Camouflage remained simple, with bombs tucked in roadkill or behind highway guardrails. (Soldiers soon ripped out hundreds of miles of guardrail.) Emplacers often used the same "blow hole" repeatedly, returning to familiar roadside "hot spots" again and again. But early in the insurgency, before U.S. troops were better trained, only about one bomb in 10 was found and neutralized, according to an Army colonel.


Each week, the cat-and-mouse game expanded. When coalition convoys routinely began stopping 300 yards from a suspected IED, insurgents planted easily spotted hoax bombs to halt traffic, then detonated explosives that had been hidden where a convoy would most likely pull over.

So where does the MRAP fit into the milieu? Rick Atkinson, the article's author, suggests that the delay in moving MRAPs into the theater was both an administrative and field decision:

Two weeks after taking command from the retiring Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Abizaid publicly described resistance in Iraq as "a classical guerrilla-style campaign," a blunt appraisal that reportedly irked the Pentagon's civilian leadership. But the amount of unsecured ammunition in Iraq, particularly in Sunni regions, alarmed him. So did the realization that many Iraqi military officers -- unemployed and disgruntled after the national army was disbanded in late May -- possessed extensive skill in handling explosives.

Abizaid hoped that American technical savvy would produce a gadget that could detect bombs at a distance, "a scientific molecular sniffer, or something," as he put it. "We thought the problem would spread," Abizaid later reflected, "but it didn't appear overly sophisticated." Underestimating the enemy's creativity and overestimating American ingenuity, a pattern established before the war began, continued long after the capture of Baghdad.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. ground commander in Iraq, told Pentagon strategists that he hoped to minimize the military's "footprint" in Iraq by maintaining an occupation force that was two-thirds motorized and only one-third mechanized. "What I don't want is a lot of tanks and Bradleys," Sanchez said, according to a senior Army commander.

The rest of piece details a special forces group that was assembled to assess the IED threat in Iraq and recommend countermeasures. and some of the initial measures (such as up-armored Humvees) that were used against the threat. Atkinson concludes the article by hinting at another struggle likely to be a major part of the IED story: the money issue.

Creation of the Joint IED Task Force would dramatically expand the U.S. effort. A $100 million budget in fiscal 2004 would mushroom to $1.3 billion in 2005. In subsequent meetings with industry executives and the national research laboratories, Wolfowitz declared that there was no higher priority. Within the Defense Department, countering IEDs would be second only to exterminating Osama bin Laden.

In fact, IEDs were likely more important than finding bin Laden at the time or at least quickly becoming so, as the CIA's bin Laden unit was in the process of disbanding in late 2005.

MORE: The Armchair Generalist weighs in.

EVEN MORE: Max Boot: "[T]echnology seldom confers a lasting advantage in military affairs. What counts is not having the right tools per se, but how you make use of them, and especially whether you can adapt faster than your adversaries."

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