Jammers increasingly used to fight IEDs

Published 14 August 2007

From July 2003 to July 2007, 1,565 coalition forces were killed by IEDs; by the end of 2007, the Pentagon will have funded more than 30,000 jammers for Marine and Army units; DOD has spent $1.6 billion on jamming technology for this fiscal year; opportunities for technology companies

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) continue to kill many in Iraq and, increasingly, in Afghanistan. IEDs are the No. 1 source of U.S. and alllied casualties in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. From July 2003 to July 2007, 1,565 coalition forces were killed by IEDs, according to iCasualties.org. Increasingly, also, these IEDs are of Iranian design, and many of their components come from Iranian military production facilities. Assembling the devices and crew training (we are talking about the Shi’a side of the Iraqi equation) are often done by Iranian intelligence operatives and Hezbollah’s fighters — themselves products of Iranian training. DHS experts believe the day is not far when we will see IEDs planted along U.S. highways and rail lines. The search for an answer to these deadly devices is intense, and the military is turning more and more to electronic jamming systems to neutralizing the threat. CNN reports that Vehicle mounted electronic jammers attempt to block a signal going to a radio-controlled IED. The military also uses portable backpack jammers. A signal going to a remote-controlled IED operates on a radio or infrared frequency.

Jamming devices, known as Counter Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare, or CREW systems, attempt to intercept or block a signal before it reaches its intended target, thus preventing detonation. One common method is barrage jamming, which knocks out a broad range of radio signals. Trouble is, this method also knocks out communications used by U.S. troops putting them at increased risk.

The campaign against IEDs offers opportunities for innovative technology companies. Along with jammers, troops use air surveillance, robots, blast-resistant vehicles, and mine rollers as countermeasures. Jamming should be useful becasue most roadside bombs are remotely detonated using common household devices: cell phones, garage door openers, burglar alarms, key fobs, doorbells, or remote controls for toy cars. As insurgents modify their devices to outwit the military, the military in turn adapts its own jamming technologies. Many companies have been tapped to supply jammers to coalition forces. The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, is interested in technologies that can be used in the field within two to eight months. The Army’s main CREW system is the Warlock Duke, a vehicle- mounted radio jammer developed by Syracuse, New York-based Syracuse Research Corporation. It is capable of jamming most radio-controlled IEDs, according to the Pentagon. The Navy, which oversees the CREW program, contracted BAE Systems to produce 3,800 wearable jammers to be fielded in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2008.

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada-based firm Med-Eng is building jammers for the Marines, reports military contractor General Dynamics.

By the end of 2007, JIEDDO will have funded more than 30,000 jammers for Marine and Army units. They have spent $1.6 billion on jamming technology for this fiscal year.

JIEDDO is not without its critics. In January, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) launched a review of the agency and its efforts to counter IEDs. The Defense Science Board criticized the agency for focusing too much on defensive countermeasures “to which the enemy quickly adapts, making these efforts less effective,” in an April 2006 report. JIEDDO said it is aggressively going after the bomb makers, working to destroy their networks. The agency acknowledges that the mission will not be achieved merely by technical means.

The best way to counter the IED threat is through understanding the network that allows an IED to even be assembled,” retired Army Brig. Gen. James “Spider” Marks told CNN. “I’d rather have the guy who is going to put that IED in place get killed long before he’s even part of the network. And I don’t want him to know how I found him out because I want to find out where all his buddies are and kill them too.”