Knowledge is power against roadside bombs
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series.
ARLINGTON, Va. — Even before troops get to Iraq, IED awareness and response is part of the training program.
At the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., “even before the word ‘IED’ was developed,” trainers were exposing troops to simulated roadside bombs, Maj. Ron Elliott said. “They’re nothing new to our training scenario.”
However, it is true that improvised explosive devices are getting even more attention in the new Iraq-specific training scenario the JRTC cadre developed in early December, Elliott said.
“In the mission rehearsal for Operation Iraqi Freedom, [IEDs] are definitely part of the play,” he said.
About 20,000 troops — four major rotations of 5,000 troops apiece — have been through the OIF training at Polk.
Each rotation spends about a month at the center, rehearsing the kinds of missions they’ll perform in Iraq, such as patrols and road movements, in a 200,000-acre training ground that includes Hollywood-worthy “Iraqi villages,” populated with more than 200 Arabic-speaking role players.
IEDs are a regular feature of the scenarios, especially during the eight-day “free-play” exercise that caps the rotation, Elliott said.
“As [troops] go from point A to point B, they’ll get hit with [mock] IEDs,” Elliott said.
JRTC trainers will observe the troops’ reactions. Later, units sit down with the observers in frank “hot wash” evaluation sessions, where mistakes are pinpointed and alternative courses of actions brainstormed.
But troops coming into the JRTC almost certainly are not encountering IED scenarios for the first time, Elliott said.
For months prior to the training rotation, units conduct their own mission rehearsals, as well as classroom instruction, at their home bases.
“This is the culmination of their training,” Elliott said. “From here, they go straight to [the Iraq] theater.”
Since at least the early 1980s, companies have sold devices that jam electronic signals for remote-controlled bombs, according to Ben Jamil, chief executive officer of Security Intelligence Technologies, Inc.
At first, the devices were all “barrage” jammers, which sent out a blast of “white noise” over a spectrum of frequencies and disrupted all radio communications, including the signal used to activate the bomb.
These weighed upwards of a ton and had to be carried on trucks, Jamil said.
Today’s jammers fit in a briefcase and use sophisticated computer algorithms and that “selectively analyze” signals in a given area, Jamil said, “and quickly make a decision whether to jam or not.”
In late January, during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker acknowledged that the Army is using jammers in Iraq to counter IEDs.
Schoomaker refused to say to what extent, and the Defense Department’s efforts to defeat remote-controlled IEDs continue to be shrouded in secrecy.
But in an April 21 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, the Army’s assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, said that “we have processed the needs statements for the jammers and those have been fielded now.
“Almost all convoys now have the capability to remotely jam the electronic detonation devices, like the garage doors [openers] or the cell phones,” Blount said.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said he wants assurances that all convoys will have jammers.
“Has the decision been reached to see to it that every convoy will have some form of protection against IEDs, some form of electronic countermeasures?” Taylor asked at the hearing.
“I could not answer that truthfully right now,” Blount said. “I know that’s the intent, but whether that is in fact taking place, I’d have to get back to you.”
Taylor was less than satisfied with that response.
“I feel bad that when I go to Iraq to visit the troops, someone is guarding me with that device,” Taylor said. “Doggone it, if you do it for me, you ought to be doing it for every kid that you send over there.”
Taylor, who has criticized the Army in previous hearings, saying the service is not doing enough to get jammers aboard convoys, said the cost of the jammers shouldn’t be a factor anymore.
“I’m told with some of these devices, because of the production rates, we’ve gotten it down to $10,000 a copy,” Taylor said. “I don’t think we can bury a GI for $10,000,” Taylor said.
“I do understand, before you even tell me, that once we do that [outfit everyone with jammers] they’re going to change tactics. Fine. Let’s make them change tactics. Because what they’re doing is working way too often, and way too easy.
“It is a priority,” Blount said.