Troops-on-the-Move to Get Increased Force Protection


The U.S. military services have made significant progress in protecting their installations against terrorist attacks since the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. Last year’s assault on the USS Cole, however, disclosed a gap in that protection, which the Pentagon now is scrambling to fill, according to Defense Department officials.

Most vulnerable at the moment are "our in-transit ships and planes," Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May.

Overall, in the four and a half years since the Khobar Towers attack–which killed 19 airmen–"we’ve made monumental progress in our antiterrorism force-protection (AT/FP) efforts," Shelton said.

After Khobar Towers, the joint chiefs created the Joint Staff Combating Terrorism Directorate (J-34) to coordinate antiterrorist operations for all of the services, Shelton noted.

"Defense planners include combating terrorism among their very top priorities," he said. Funding for antiterrorist programs increased by $100 million in fiscal year 2001 to a total of $3.5 billion, he noted.

Teams from the directorate have visited 327 military installations worldwide to assess their abilities to thwart terrorist threats. An additional 96 bases will receive visits by the end of this year.

Base commanders receive a step-by-step guide in developing thorough and inclusive plans. In addition, the department has instituted four levels of antiterrorism training–a basic awareness course for all defense personnel and their families, an advanced curriculum for force-protection officers, seminars for commanding officers and executive-level briefings for senior officials.

The Combating Terrorism Directorate has created two organizations "that are vital" to the Pentagon’s efforts to leverage technology in the battle against terrorism, Shelton said.

"The Physical Security Equipment Action Group coordinates Defense Department efforts in acquiring all physical-security equipment, including commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology that has AT/FP applicability," he said. "Another organization, the Technical Support Working Group, focuses on rapid prototype technologies in the AT/FP arena."

All of these efforts apparently are paying off. Since Khobar Towers, Pentagon officials noted, there have been no new attacks against U.S. military bases anywhere in the world. Instead, terrorists have turned their attention to more vulnerable targets, such as the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, where large-vehicle bombs killed a dozen Americans and 224 Africans in 1998.

The blast that killed 17 sailors and heavily damaged the Cole last October in the Yemeni port of Aden shocked the Navy, said Capt. Martin J. Erdossy, force-protection director for the Navy Department. Erdossy made his comments last May at the third Force Protection Equipment Demonstration (FPED III), sponsored by the Defense Department at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. Its purpose was to allow manufacturers to showcase currently available state-of-the-art AT/FP technologies.

"Prior to the Cole, many of us thought that terrorism was something that happened to somebody else–somebody with fixed facilities," Erdossy said. "We were wrong."

In the aftermath of the Cole attack, then-Defense Secretary William Cohen appointed a commission headed by Army Gen. William W. Crouch and Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman, both retired, to recommend security improvements. The commission, earlier this year, issued its report, with 30 findings and 53 recommendations, which are being implemented "aggressively," Shelton told the senators. For example:

In addition, individual services are beefing up protection for in-transit forces. For instance, the Navy has:

All of the services are in the market for new technologies to help them offer improved protection for their forces, said Army Brig. Gen. Jonathan Cofer, deputy director for operations in the Combating Terrorism Directorate.

More than 400 vendors, displaying more than 1,000 new COTS products, pitched their tents along the runway at Quantico’s Marine Corps Air Facility. To qualify for exhibition at FPED, products were required to be available for procurement and testing within 90 days of the event. Some examples:


Topics: Counterterrorism, International, Defense Department

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