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FEATURE ARTICLE  

Researchers Tout New Counter-IED Technology 

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By Stew Magnuson  

ResearchersToutOn a Baghdad street corner, an Iraqi citizen spots insurgents planting an improvised explosive device. He quickly gets on his cell phone and uses an icon menu and the global positioning system chip inside to tell a command center what is going on.

No voice message is needed. No phone call from the operations center is returned.

The center dispatches a response team, and maybe, captures the insurgents while in the act.

Minutes later, as the informant approaches an illegal checkpoint, he quickly erases the software by hitting a couple buttons. The evidence that he is aiding coalition forces is zapped. He can easily download the software back in later.

The concept in this scenario is still just that — a concept. It is one of many in the ongoing fight to defeat the deadliest threat to coalition forces in Iraq — makeshift bombs.

“What we’re talking about is a sensor network made up of people,” said Wilson Engel III, senior acquisition specialist at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.

The Local Eyes concept would be a way for the coalition to use the relatively robust cellular phone network in Iraq against insurgents, just as it has been used against coalition forces since the beginning of the conflict. There are about 7.1 million cell phones currently being used in Iraq, Engel said at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement asymmetric warfare conference.

The technology is mature, Engel said. The joint operational command centers, where the informant would be calling, however, are not, he said. One has been set up in Mosul, but it has been under constant threat.

Local Eyes would have to use trusted sources, and an identity verification system, to prevent response teams from being set up for ambushes. There would also have to be some kind of way to reward users, such as cash deposits in a bank account, or free cell phone time, he added.

Engel is looking for sponsors to fund the concept. The infrastructure — the cell phone network — is already in place, he noted.

“This doesn’t have to cost $50 million,” he added.

Finding roadside bombs before they explode is the most important challenge of the counter-IED fight, military experts have said.

The naked eye can only tell the difference between a few colors. Hyperspectral sensors, which have been under development for more than a decade, can discern 256 colors to detect anomalies in terrain. Their abilities can be applied to pinpoint buried IEDs, said Phil Owen, the lead for the Army’s Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle payload management division.

“We believe hyperspectral technology is mature and ready to go to the field,” he said.

The Aurora Generation IV hyperspectral sensor, manufactured by BAE Systems, can be placed on a Shadow UAV. The sensor searches for disturbed earth, changes in vegetation or potholes, where roadside bombs have been hidden. The Shadow would have to fly over an area more than once to make comparisons, he said.

“That pothole today could be a target tomorrow,” he said.

After IEDs are detected, explosive ordnance disposal teams are called in to dismantle them.

Joseph Schepisi, lead program analyst for information technology at the Navy EOD program management office, wants to speed into the field a mobile field kit for bomb disposal teams.

The kit is a ruggedized laptop that contains the latest information on how to dismantle bombs, so technicians know not to “cut the blue wire,” he said.

Tips on bomb-making trends and how to best render them safe are updated in hardcopies quarterly, Schepisi said. “That’s not the way to go in this day and age.”

A prototype of the system has already been tested and awaits approval from the Defense Department’s joint requirements oversight council.

Alerts about new tactics and the devices insurgents are using would be put out over the global information grid and shared between teams in real-time. The information would also be sent to training centers so students can learn the latest techniques before deployment.

“That’s vital, capturing all those lessons learned,” Schepisi said.

Please email your comments to smagnuson@ndia.org

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