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Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified 


By Jeffrey Trumbore 

The last 12 years of conflict have firmly established the roles of explosive ordnance disposal teams in supporting joint operations. EOD has proven to be critical during irregular and counterinsurgency warfare, and was used extensively to counter improvised explosive devices and remove unexploded bombs, known as “explosive remnants of war,” in EOD lingo.

Much of EOD’s success in these complex battlefields came from learning on the fly and not from the application of existing doctrine. As the joint force faces complex conflicts in the future, EOD’s challenge is to identify an appropriate way to provide a solid foundation for preserving these skills and to provide commanders with the guidance required to effectively leverage these capabilities. That challenge can be met by writing doctrine.

U.S. Central Command’s IED threat was met by the joint explosive ordnance disposal force  — the one military organization that had tracked the threat, understood the technology and trained to counter homemade bombs before Sept. 11, 2001.

It found ways to exploit intelligence recovered from IEDs and related to those charged with targeting insurgent and bomb-making cells. It created post-IED blast procedures to collect this technical and forensic evidence. It developed techniques to render IEDs safe, and technologies to defeat the bombs and protect service members. It also developed tactics to remove unexploded bombs as a source of enemy explosives.

While each of the solutions had significant tactical effects on efforts to defeat insurgents, they also had strategic-level impacts. Over time, the growing importance and complexity of the operations resulted in the establishment of counter–IED task forces — one each in Iraq and Afghanistan — led by explosive ordnance disposal officers.

Clearly, joint EOD’s experience had evolved into a broad range of capabilities that directly affected the success of operations. These capabilities need to be fully captured in doctrine. An April Government Accountability Office report, “Explosive Ordnance Disposal: DoD Needs Better Resource Planning and Joint Guidance to Manage the Capability” came to the same conclusion.

Codifying joint capabilities in the doctrine joint publication set is critical to the future of the EOD force. As noted in the GAO report, “The services are disadvantaged with respect to EOD capabilities, knowledge and use because DoD has not developed joint doctrine in the form of a joint publication.”

The rationale for this is well founded. Terrorists and insurgents will continue to use homemade bombs, and explosive remnants will continue to be a major or potential source of supply in many unstable regions of the world.

Additionally, the potential for state and non-state actors to use or proliferate weapons of mass destruction is a continuing concern for national leaders. Joint EOD has a critical role in improvised bomb, explosive remnant and WMD-related missions, as well as their traditional unexploded ordnance tasks and the underwater mine countermeasures mission specific to Navy teams. These roles and associated capabilities need to be fully captured in joint and service doctrine.

Why is doctrine documentation important? Joint doctrine is the foundation for a joint training system. Doctrine supports the training continuum and helps to justify the resources required to maintain a trained and ready force. Doctrine forms the basis for joint training in the schoolhouses, and provides authoritative guidance to combatant and joint task force commanders with regard to planning and conducting joint exercises and subsequent joint operations in a battlezone.

Additionally, joint doctrine directly influences the development of each service’s own doctrine, which must track with the principles and guidance provided in the joint publication. Current doctrine does not adequately address the range of explosive ordnance disposal capabilities or employment opportunities in support of a joint force.

A combatant or joint task force commander’s staff has one consolidated reference source for joint service explosive ordnance disposal capabilities, a publication called the EOD Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, which is dated September 2011. It is a good document with solid information on all four service explosive ordnance disposal organizations. However, as the GAO report notes, the document is not well known or used. Military planners simply do not have the doctrinal resources needed to understand the full range of capabilities that EOD brings to the joint force and how to plan for and employ those skills.

The GAO report’s finding verifies the need to better codify explosive ordnance disposal capabilities in doctrine. A starting point would be to determine answers to the following questions: Why is the EOD Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques and Procedures not used? What are all the existing references to EOD in joint doctrine?

Is explosive ordnance disposal referenced in the primary joint publications used for planning operations that would logically include its missions?

Based on the answers to these questions, in what joint publications do links to explosive ordnance disposal activities need to be included or updated?  Is a stand-alone explosive ordnance disposal joint publication also required?

Identifying the organizations responsible for joint EOD doctrine development is imperative. Now is the time, when the force is at the height of its visibility with polished new capabilities in hand, to develop the basis of the doctrine that will lay the foundation for the future.  The envisioned effort will not require a great number of personnel to execute, but it may require a long-term, sustained effort to influence the normal joint publication set five year review and revision cycle.

Regardless of the action taken by the appropriate and responsible joint EOD proponent or board, one thing is certain: Bomb disposal units have become recognized for their importance in a range of missions. The forces punched well above their weight in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this significant capability needs to be captured in doctrine.

The longer the doctrine review and development process is delayed, the higher the risk that it will never be properly executed, and “learning on the fly” will be repeated with regard to joint EOD force employment.

Sadly, many lives were lost in Iraq and Afghanistan as we were on this learning curve. No one wants to see that repeated, so taking this small step to address joint doctrine is just one of many things that needs to be codified in relation to the nation’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jeffrey Trumbore is an associate with R3 Strategic Support Group. He retired from the Navy in 2010 after more than 34 years of service as a special operations officer and master explosive ordnance disposal technician. He can be reached at

Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
Reader Comments

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

I don't think this article is suggesting codifying operations on the ground, but rather how EOD teams are integrated in to a combat role. In peace time we are isolated from the combat units, and kind of do our own thing, and there is some trouble with commanders attempting to misuse or under use EOD teams. I noticed huge differences on teams where good capabilities briefs were given right away and when they were not. I think making this doctrine is actually more about getting commanders to use attached EOD teams to their fullest potential, not dictating how a team leader runs a scene.

Sean on 04/24/2014 at 14:19

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

I beleive that a joint doctrine sounds good in theory but in reality it is going to be hard to allow an EOD operator to adapt and over come due to all the limitations that doctrine puts on an individuals ability think outside the letters of the law. It has already been proven in theater that many times it cause more harm than good and ends up putting good EOD team leaders on the hot plate for very poor reasons. I also beleive it will increase the danger the all in feild due to a cookie cutter approach in relation to C-IED. I may be off but seems to me a joint doctrine like this will just provide more ground rules to follow,and more ways to get fried?!?!

Brandon Uber on 04/24/2014 at 07:52

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

You have done a great job of identifying and communicating the requirement. I look forward to seeing the task development and project pan out in the near future. This will provide for a sustained readiness posture for EOD as well as for the military enterprise.

Todd DeVoe on 10/11/2013 at 08:59

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

Great idea my friend. Let the magic of the U.S. bureaucracy do it's job and this will be employed in say... 13-16 years.

Sean Taylor on 10/10/2013 at 23:45

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

CAPT, first off great article. We have just today been linked via email and will surely touch base there. But for the viewers of this site, I will add that perhaps an element in all of this that has been overlooked is the need for a network. A codification process is good in that it establishes a common method with which to coordinate collective action. But a publication and even technology is only effective in our dynamic and nuanced threat environment if we remember that individuals with knowledge, explicit and tacit, need to be able to interact.

I am currently pushing a project called the EOD Digital Hive. It is this project's goal to not only design a classified portal to network EOD operators and stakeholders with clearance and need to know in order to augment EOD operators with a viable knowledge network, but also to involve them from cradle to grave in its creation, allowing any contributor to add small pieces to its development in a collaborative way much like Wikipedia. If such a site existed, members could debate and dialogue better ways to do business and could greatly influence the creation of publications and augment its dissemination since all EOD could populate this one site in the same way as a social network such as Facebook.

I invite EOD operators and stakeholders to visit the springboard for the project. You will need a google plus acct and be logged in. Then go to and send a request.

All techs and stakeholders welcome.

John Hayes on 09/27/2013 at 17:26

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

Yes that's what is needed, rules and regulations that will inevitably dictate some ridiculous procedural rules for the EOD TL to follow. The C-IED fight can not be driven by restriction and rules. The nature of the IED is restricted to the imagination of the person(s) building it, therefore you can not simply write a set of regulations which give explicit, limiting guidance detailing how to properly deal with this threat. As a TL, you have to be innovative, technically proficient, forward thinking, and quick to react. Many of the procedures for dealing with this threat are as unconventional as the IED itself. What we need to maintain the proficiency in dealing with this threat is already in place. That is the knowledgeable Team Leaders currently serving as EOD Technicians who will continue to train those team members serving with the TL, passing on the critical knowledge that only the TL has in the way that only the EOD Team Leader can.

David Simpkins on 08/17/2013 at 15:10

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

Well said. The sustainance of EOD ops is essential to mitigate threats in future conflicts and a joint doctrine to address capabilities and ensure compliance is necessary.

Truman Tay on 08/16/2013 at 22:24

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

I think that the ability of Techs to make the varying decisions that allow them to choose their path to disarming the device is precisely what makes us so effective. If we were all taught to use this method with this type of item, then it is much easier for the enemy to predict what we are going to do and kill us. Always change your TTPs is what they preach, but they don't want us to practice that now?

Ian Laughlin on 08/16/2013 at 19:44

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

I feel a joint doctrine sounds great on paper, but their are many aspects of CIED that can't be trained step by step, and as we know that's exactly how military training is done. It is more about sharpening the instincts and knowledge of our techs. The CIED game changes drastically, in a 15 month deployment I saw IED tactics change several times, and the best defense against them was our adaptability and communication throughout the CIED community.
I feel key points to train on would be proper reporting of incidents, better forensics training, and cross training with multiple experienced team leaders.
Do we need a joint doctrine yes, will it provide everything needed, NO.

Jesse Haney on 08/16/2013 at 19:04

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

E.O.D. teams and combat tactics should NEVER be exposed to the public at any time. Those tactics initiated keep our service members alive. The enemy knowing what they are increase the chance of them not returning home to friends and family.

John C. Garrison on 08/16/2013 at 17:16

Re: Combat Experience of Bomb-Disposal Teams Should Be Codified

Jeff Trumbore has hit the mark with his observations. The EOD mission within each service and jointly has changed as a result of the last decade of war. C-IED is now a part of planning for all missions. EOD operators are the key to success in the C-IED arena. Joint doctrine is a must and the services must act while memories are sharp and key players are still engaged.

Robert Hodges on 08/16/2013 at 12:57

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