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EOD Doctrine: Why We Need It

In the September article, “Combat Experience of Bomb Disposal Teams Should Be Codified,” Jeff Trumbore made a compelling argument for joint EOD doctrine to capture lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan so that that we might not have to learn the hard way again, “on-the-fly,” at great cost in future conflicts.

It is an important and timely discussion. If we are to develop joint EOD doctrine — and we should be clear that we are talking about operational level doctrine, not tactics, techniques and procedures — we ought to consider what it should address.

Many of the lessons relate to IEDs, but we already have joint counter-IED doctrine, so do we need EOD doctrine as well? The short answer is “yes.”

First, many of the doctrinal lessons related to IEDs, such as how we organize joint EOD forces, apply broadly to EOD activities in general, not just countering IEDs. Second, the doctrinal publications that do address EOD, such as Joint Pub 3-34, Joint Engineer Operations, are incomplete in their treatment of EOD and are not an obvious place for planners to look for information on its capabilities. And third, the EOD career field has grown dramatically since its inception in 1941, and more than 70 years of expanding roles and missions have never been codified in joint doctrine. With the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan fresh, now is the time to redress this deficiency.

Interservice Responsibilities for Explosive Ordnance Disposal, issued in 1992, addresses some doctrinal roles, but telling a joint force commander that Navy EOD handles any ordnance found seaward of “the high water mark” while Army EOD covers “the land mass areas” does not provide him much useful information. A joint force commander needs to know why he needs EOD troops and how he is going to control them.

Although all EOD technicians attend the same core training at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal, each of the services takes a different approach to organizing, training and equipping its EOD forces. Joint doctrine would make those differences plain and articulate their relevance to planners.

Joint doctrine helps to define roles and missions, in other words, who does what. For example, the line between the doctrinal roles of combat engineers and EOD is not always clear, even though their capabilities vary greatly. Combat engineers breach minefields while EOD teams render safe and exploit IEDs, but who should clear roads of IEDs? In Iraq and Afghanistan, we experimented with using a mix of infantry, combat engineers (explosive hazard clearance teams) and EOD for route clearance. There ought to be lessons that we can codify as doctrine so that we can organize, train and equip the joint force for future contingencies.

Combat engineers also have a doctrinal mission to destroy explosive remnants of war, but EOD teams are better trained for large-scale demolition operations and identifying and recovering enemy ordnance for exploitation.

There are appropriate and complementary roles for engineers and EOD; doctrine would help to define them. EOD forces cannot effectively breach a minefield by probing on their hands and knees in a meter-wide path, and when engineers blow IEDs in place, they destroy evidence that could be exploited to defeat the network that planted them. Doctrine would help a joint force commander understand what force he needs for a particular mission and what its capabilities and limitations are. Joint Engineer Operations does not answer all of these questions.

Many tactical EOD tasks lend themselves to strategic and operational level activities such as stability operations, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, foreign internal defense, defense support to civil authorities, force protection and humanitarian mine action. Joint doctrine exists for many of these activities, but there is little mention of EOD. Landmines and UXO are a worldwide scourge that stymie economic development and undermine food security. Helping partner nations recover from war and transition to long-term stability is an enduring U.S. interest, and remediating explosive hazards is a contribution the EOD force can make to public diplomacy. Humanitarian demining has typically been taught by Army Special Forces or combat engineers, but EOD forces are particularly well suited to this work in a supporting or supported role.

In the aftermath of an event like Boston or Oklahoma City, or worse, a sustained terrorist bombing campaign, the joint EOD community could support civil authorities. Joint EOD doctrine would help to define the role of EOD in these operational tasks and provide a benchmark to organize, train and equip EOD forces for such employment.

There is often resistance to doctrine by those who worry that it constrains creativity, leads to wooden thinking, or makes us predictable.

By capturing the theory and practical experience of warfare, doctrine permits improvisation based on agreed upon principles and best practices. Rather than stifle initiative, doctrine is meant to enable it. When solving complex operational problems, it is much better to start from an authoritative body of knowledge than build ad hoc solutions from scratch.

Since the beginning of the EOD career field in 1941, more than 300 joint service EOD technicians have been killed in the line of duty, nearly half since Sept. 11, 2001. We have paid a steep price for the knowledge we have gained, we ought to capitalize on it while we can.

Marc Tranchemontagne
R3 Strategic Support Group

Unmanned Aviation

Regarding the Oct. 18 article, “Flying Drones in U.S. Airspace Not As Easy As It Looks,” I don’t get this rush to fill the U.S. skies with unmanned aerial vehicles. UAVs were built and fielded for two main reasons: To get an observation aircraft airborne for ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) for long periods of time behind enemy lines without the need for life support systems and to take pilots out of danger. Neither of these apply to civilian situations. If you need a pilot on the ground to fly these, put him in the air.

An aircraft that has the range and abilities of serious aircraft for airborne observation not required to operate behind enemy lines is far cheaper and easier to build and for a pilot to operate.

I’m not talking about the little “hobby-like” aircraft that have no range or serious capabilities. There are already thousands of pilots needing to build time in aircraft preparing for a career to fill all those expanding airlines pilot rolls, and to replace retiring commercial pilots. And if a sheriff needs a UAV to go look for a lost hiker, he can call one of us retired fighter pilots who can take up a local Cessna and do it for almost free.

Andy Rhude
Sent by email

Keeping the A-10 in Operation

Regarding the September story, “Fight to Keep A-10 Warthog in Air Force Inventory Reaches End Game,” I am a taxpayer, not an aviator, so I have a bit of a dispassionate view of this issue.

It seems that the single greatest flaw of the A-10, an exceptionally reliable piece of military hardware in the inventory, is that they are already paid for. The reason we jettison so much of our well-functioning equipment is not that it fails to work or work well. It is only because it is already bought and paid for. No one will get a promotion, award or good efficiency report by advocating the DoD keep effective equipment already in the inventory.

John Handy
Sent by email

Abrams Industrial Base

In reference to the October story, “Over Army Objections, Industry and Congress Partner to Keep Abrams Tank Production ‘Hot,’” the article carelessly conflates and confuses two separate issues: manufacture of new tanks and upgrade of existing tanks. The debate is over upgrading existing tanks to bring the entire inventory up to a common standard. The Army has a long history of penny-pinching foolishness on this matter.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, all Army modernization was prioritized around fielding increments to Force Package 1 (FP 1), then FP 2, and only then to FP 3 units, roughly “forward deployed,” “CONUS active” and finally “Guard and Reserve,” respectively. 

Like most programs, the Abrams went through a series of improvements throughout its production, starting with the M1, the IPM1, the M1A1, M1A2, M1A2SEP and M1A2SEPv2.

Early on, the Army reasoned that it was cheaper to slightly upgrade an advanced model than to fully upgrade an early model tank, so the tendency was to keep further upgrading ever smaller subsets of the latest models into yet-further advanced ones, while the hindmost remained untouched.

Such shortsightedness had consequences. Iraq invaded Kuwait and the United States launched Operation Desert Shield. While M1A1-equipped forward deployed units sat and watched, CONUS units deployed with M1 tanks, and lo and behold, they then had to execute an in-theater swap, units trading in their M1 for M1A1 tanks, along with all the training and maintenance and logistics involved, not to mention the duplication of shipping. Fortunately, Saddam Hussein sat back and let us proceed through that “goat rope” at our leisure.

On this issue, the Army is demonstrably wrong.

Chester A. Kojro
Rolla, MO
Reader Comments

Re: Readers Sound Off on Recent Stories

"EOD Doctrine: Why We Need It"

Regardless of my view on the nessecity of doctirne I think it very odd that this publication would chose to use a letter from one person inside a company, R3SSG, to support a letter from another person in the same company.

Odd on 05/30/2014 at 12:16

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