JIEDDO Emerges From Wars as Combat Support Agency

By Stew Magnuson
In May, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization was given a new name and a permanent place in the Pentagon bureaucracy under acquisition, technology and logistics at the office of the secretary of defense.

That ended years of speculation as to the fate of the organization that was created specifically to tackle the scourge of roadside bombs in the early days of the Iraq war.

Now called the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA), it will expand its role beyond IEDs to other emerging non-conventional weapons that could be employed against U.S. forces, its leaders said at the Global Explosive Ordnance Disposal Symposium in Bethesda, Maryland.

The updated mission statement said JIDA will enable Defense Department actions to counter improvised threats with tactical responsiveness and anticipatory acquisition in support of combatant commanders’ efforts “to prepare for, and react to, battlefield surprise in support of counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and other related mission areas including counter-improvised explosive devices.”

Army Col. Rich Edwards, chief of strategy, plans and policy at JIDA, said, “counter IED will remain our stock and trade as we continue to develop our contributions to these other mission sets and look to identify those networks that are pursuing disruptive technologies that will attempt to negate our battlefield advantage.”

Clandestine tunnels and countering unmanned aerial vehicles are two missions beyond improvised explosive devices that the organization might tackle, he added.

JIDA is still being stood up. It is aiming to reach its initial operating capability by October 2016 and to be staffed and ready for full operations by October 2017, he said.

“We have a bit of a way to go to get to our IOC date, but I think we have a pretty good pathway through the next year to merge into traffic and become an enduring organization for the Department of Defense,” Edwards said.

Its new director Army Lt. Gen. Michael H. Shields, JIEDDO’s former deputy director of operations and requirements, was confirmed in late July.

JIEDDO was created in February 2006, growing out of two separate task forces that were attempting to “stop the bleeding” as insurgents in Iraq — and later Afghanistan — were effectively using roadside bombs against U.S. troops, allies and civilians. Its overarching mission was to defeat IEDs “as a strategic weapon of influence,” Government Accountability Office documents said.

Its first reputation was as a rapid equipping force. It speedily fielded counter-IED technologies such as robots, jammers and sensors. Its director had the authority to approve programs under $25 million and to “recommend” programs that cost more than $25 million. The three-star general appointed as its leader answered directly to the secretary of defense.

JIEDDO later expanded to training soldiers. Marines, airmen and sailors, who were deploying into the theater, learned techniques for spotting bombs.

It finally expanded to “defeating the network.” That required new forensic tools to gather technical intelligence about the devices, which would help forces track down the bomb-makers and financiers. It created databases to help gather and sort through the intelligence.

JIEDDO could lean on budgets as high as $3.5 billion as roadside bombs continued to be the number one killer of U.S. troops.

After U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq, operations began to wind down in Afghanistan and the defense budget tightened, debate began on what should happen to the organization.

After two years of discussions at the Pentagon on JIEDDO’s future, “I think we landed fairly softly as an agency,” said Navy Cmdr. Mike Egan, JIDA weapons technical intelligence branch chief.

“That is going to be the flag we wave at JIDA — the improvised threat,” he said when asked about the difference between JIDA and another combat service support organization, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which concentrates on weapons of mass destruction.

“We as an organization are prepared to take on that role that we have been playing for the past 10 years or so in regards to counter IED. That’s not going to go away. ... In fact, I think it’s going to be bigger than ever,” Egan said.

The most notable difference between JIDA and JIEDDO will be the budget, he said.

“We had the reputation for so long of crushing people with our wallet. ‘We don’t care what you want. We’re going to give you 1,000 of them and we’re sending them to you tomorrow.’ Now we don’t have that big checkbook anymore,” he said.

JIDA’s base budget will be about $114 million as opposed to JIEDDO budgets that reached into the billions, he said.

“We’re going to find other ways to continue to do what we’re doing without all the money that we used to have,” he said.

As far as its reputation as a rapid equipping force, Egan said that was something that Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, who will oversee the new agency, wanted to retain.

“And I think it is one of the reasons we found that home that we did at ATL,” Egan said. “That’s what we’re good at. How are we going to do that without that multi-billion dollar budget? That’s a pretty good question.”

Egan said companies with ideas for defeating IEDs once came to JIEDDO looking for development money. But those days are over. It expects to partner with other agencies to develop new technologies.

“Don’t come to JIDA with a great idea and your hand out,” he said. Potential contractors should come with a list of other organizations that might be willing to become partners, and contribute some funding.

Overseas contingency operations money will also help foot the bill for technology development, he said.

Edwards said the new agency will continue to rely on two methods that JIEDDO employed to harvest new ideas to defeat improvised threats: industry days and broad area announcements.

“Every problem doesn’t have a military solution and we will continue to capitalize on the successful collaboration with partners here in the U.S. government, the private sector and our coalition partners,” Edwards said.

JIDA will take its understanding of the threat, share the information with the community and focus on technological solutions that can be delivered in the zero- to two-year time frame, while also keeping an eye on the two to five, and five and out years for emerging threats, he said.

Along with being a rapid equipping organization, JIEDDO developed databases where intelligence about bombs was collected.

Keeping that effort going has been increasingly difficult as troops have withdrawn from the battlefields, Egan said. “We’re finding out what it is like not to have Title 10 troops on the ground that are providing that vital information that gives you the awareness of what’s going on in the battlefield,” he said.

JIDA intends to fill the “information deficit” by using social media and special operations forces, he said.

“They are boots on the ground, they are in places that are ahead of what the newspapers are telling you, and they are the collection assets of the future,” he said of the special operators. 

JIDA can be an advocate for keeping these data collection systems running and making sure they transition to programs of record, Egan said.

Edwards said JIDA will concentrate on the bomb threats in the Middle East, North Africa and Colombia, while keeping an eye on trends in the rest of the world. He anticipated a staff of about 975 in the organization, with 400 military and civilian workers and the remaining contractors whose numbers can expand or contract based on requirements.

“We want to make sure we maintain the lessons learned to ensure that all this experience from the past decade-plus of conflict are not lost,” he said.

JIDA will continue to do what it did best, he said. ”We will continue to leverage the operating model that led to our success attacking the IED challenge. We will retain the ability to gain information from the forward edge of the fight and this information will feed the development of our solutions in the various domains be that material, nonmaterial, data analytics or training.”

“There has been a marked rise of IED use in conflicts around the globe, complicated by the rise of technology-enabled warfare,” JIDA’s new mission statement said. “There is free-market access to IED precursors, which pass from licit businesses to illicit activities. Threat networks use whatever is cheapest and most available. The ubiquitous nature of IED materials, their low cost and potential for strategic impact guarantee the IED will remain a threat and primary casualty-producing weapon for decades to come.”

Peter Singer, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said, “for JIDA to stay relevant, it will have to keep pace with how the threat is evolving, not just in use, but users.

“We’ll continue to see a proliferation of new types [of bombs], using new or reworked old technologies  — unmanned aerial systems as an example — but also individuals and groups using them, unfortunately in both international and domestic settings.”

Edwards said: “We have some work to do over the next year, but things are lining up well for JIDA.”

Topics: Bomb and Warhead, Improvised Explosive Devices, Defense Department

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