A U.S. soldier from a military transition team rushes to the scene of a Vehicle Borne IED explosion to treat injured Iraqi civilians in Mosul, Iraq. (DoD photo)
The U.S. armed forces face few more serious problems than countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Government agencies and major defense companies, including Raytheon, have taken rapid action to defeat the threat. Urgency is critical. Reports from Afghanistan and Iraq show that roadside bombs and ambushes account for many American and coalition casualties. The Department of Defense has invested considerable time and money to shield troops against these threats, but insurgents are exacting unacceptably high costs in young Americans killed or injured.
The race to counter IEDs involves many initiatives ranging from new and improved defensive equipment to active countermeasures and more effective training—the approach Raytheon recently demonstrated at a major military trade show.
Up-armored Humvees have helped, but troops in theater are increasingly reliant on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs). These massive trucks, really battleships on wheels, provide protection by shielding against and deflecting blast forces, but they are unwieldy, expensive and may become obsolete if war-fighting techniques change. High costs are justifiable in terms of lives saved, but every expended defense dollar signifies a budget and policy choice, leaving other very important needs unfunded.
Armor is not limited to vehicles. Individual troops now drape themselves in far more effective gear with amazing resilience against ballistic strikes. Unfortunately, individual protection is not likely to withstand the power of a large explosion. Furthermore, wrapping troops in protective cocoons limits their mobility and speed. Even if the weight is bearable, plates or pads secured with straps to the body and extremities can be clumsy.
Active countermeasures, sensor systems that can detect hidden or buried objects, also hold promise against IEDs. Systems utilizing ground-penetrating radar, thermal or infrared imagery, magnetic anomaly detection or other methods may enable troops on patrol to identify and neutralize weapons lying in wait for them. Once again, however, most of these approaches are not yet ready.