Defense Department Not Nimble Enough to Defeat Bomb Makers
"In the last 10 years we have came from being underfunded, under-resourced, and under-equipped to catching up to the fight," said Capt. Dan Coleman of the Navy expeditionary warfare division. But that is what it is: a game of catch up, he added.
The research and development community needs to get ahead of the curve and look at the potential ways enemies will use bombs in the future. As a Navy officer, for example, Coleman said he worries about submersible IEDs, a threat that has not emerged, but could someday.
"We can't go back to shooting behind the duck in terms of technology to defeat this IED threat," Coleman said at the National Defense Industrial Association global EOD conference.
As casualties caused by roadside bombs continue to mount in Afghanistan, Coleman expressed frustration with the acquisition process that is not nimble enough to respond to the latest IED threat. By the time a solution is fielded, insurgents have already moved on to a new method of employing the devices.
"We are backing into the future. We are meeting today's needs and today's gaps as best we can, but we're not looking over our shoulder to find out what tomorrow's fight is going to be," he said.
The EOD community will have to do this in a time of constrained resources, he added. The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, where he once served, could once spend a lot of money to bring forth new counter-IED technology. It didn't matter how much it cost. Schedule was the primary driver. As long as a vendor could deliver a solution to solve a problem quickly, the funding was there, Coleman said. Now, with fiscal pressures, JIEDDO will be saying, "we need it now, but we won't be able to pay more."
Meanwhile, EOD teams are struggling to do their jobs in mountainous areas in Afghanistan, said Navy Cmdr. Todd Siddall, deputy commander of Coalition Joint Task Force Paladin, the organization in charge of defeating bomb-making networks in Afghanistan.
There are now 14 different handheld devices fielded in Afghanistan used to detect improvised explosive devices.
Most of them work well, but imagine a dismounted operation where an explosive ordnance disposal team of three must carry sensors, a small robot, plastic explosives used to detonate bombs they discover, a radio frequency jammer, not to mention food, water, weapons and ammunition, he said.
Sensors carried into the field include metal detectors, ground-penetrating radar and a device designed to find hidden tripwires. With all that loading down EOD personnel, the 90-pound protective bomb suits are being left behind, said Siddall. Units have been given lighter robots, but they are not as capable as the larger models, he added.
The large amount of real-time intelligence being gathered by overhead aircraft is not making it to these EOD teams on foot patrols, he added.
"One of the challenges we are having is that it takes a great deal of time to get that information down to that specialists or staff sergeant walking down through that village so he understands what is out there," Siddall said.