September 5, 2015: Strategy Page
The Future of IEDs: Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) caused over 65 percent of coalition casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and are likely to remain the bad guy weapon of choice in the near future. Using such devices is a great way to fight the high-tech U.S. when you are a technological and material underdog. Despite the success insurgents have had using IEDs, there is intense professional discussion in the U.S. military over how much energy and resources, including valuable training time, to exert in dealing with them.
Since September 11, 2001 two-thirds of the Americans killed in combat were the victims of roadside bombs and (much less often) mines. This was a big shift from the American experience in Vietnam, where 14 percent of American deaths were from bombs and mines. While that meant twice as many Americans killed by bombs and mines during Vietnam (55,000 dead) compared to Iraq and Afghanistan (6,700 dead), the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) became the most successful weapon the enemy had against American troops. In response the U.S. formed JIEDDO (Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization), a $25 billion dollar effort to deal with roadside bombs. Because of the fear that IEDs will continue to be a major threat (because all the other battlefield dangers have been made so much less dangerous) the U.S. is keeping JIEDDO going, although cutting staff and funding by about two-thirds.
The greatly reduced level of US ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has occasioned a serious debate within the U.S. Army and Marine Corps on the future status of Counter-IED skills, equipment and training. army and marine leaders worry about the loss of legacy skills, examples of which are combined arms operations at the battalion and brigade level and a generation of marines who are unfamiliar with operating from on board ship. One of the touch points of the associated professional debate was the future of JIEDDO. The debate is now over and in July 2015 JIEDDO become the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization now known as JIDA. This re-designation creates a permanent organization and the change in scope is obvious. American military thinkers acknowledge IEDs were a surprising tactic, with strategic implications, for which the military had no immediate solution. No one wants to repeat the spectacle of U.S. troops putting improvised armor on their hummers and trucks happened in 2004. It took until mid-2005 to up armor all hunners. While JIDA is still focused on IEDs the additional scope against all improvised threats is designed to anticipate and avoid the kind of battlefield surprise encountered in insurgent use of IEDs. Some criticized the old JIEDDO as wasting too much money. However it comes down to the classic efficiency versus effectiveness argument. When you are running a business you need to maximize efficiency, when you are trying to keep soldiers and marines alive you care more about effectiveness. The critics’ comments are misplaced. IED “found and cleared” rates for example went up from 49 percent at the beginning of the 2010 Afghanistan “surge” to 65 percent two years later. While JIEDDO’s own analysis suggested multiple causes for the improvement the JIEDDO pushed effort to employ hand held detection devices, and the training for them, as well as other initiatives were key factors. During the same Afghan surge with 30,000 additional U.S. forces going into often untouched Taliban territory IED attacks of course increased, by 25 percent, yet effective attacks decreased 3.1 percent. The bottom line is U.S. enemies have found a useful tool in the IED and know better than to try and fight the U.S. symmetrically with a peer ground force. Hence the need for an organization that is focused on anticipating asymmetric threats like the IED. Look to see JIDA moving into other areas than Counter-IED in the future. --- Colonel Rod Coffey, USA (Ret)