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Airborne IED buster may be flying soon over Afghanistan

By GEOFF ZIEZULEWICZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 15, 2011

NAPLES, Italy — Marines in Afghanistan may soon be aided in thwarting homemade bombs from an ally in the sky.

The Marine Corps is in the final stages of integrating a pod onto the AV-8B Harrier II that will allow it to jam radio frequencies used by insurgents to communicate and remotely detonate improvised explosive devices.

The Intrepid Tiger II pod also is to be installed on F/A-18 Hornets and eventually on helicopters, Lt. Col. Robert Kudelko, electronic warfare requirements officer for Headquarters Marine Corps’ aviation branch, said in an email.

The Corps also has a modified pod that can fly on the RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle, he said.

In the air, a pilot controls the pod and can cycle through different frequency settings, depending on the mission and the needs of the ground troops being supported, Kudelko said. Ground operators will also be able to control the pod, while using signal detection and analysis equipment.

The IT II pod costs less than $600,000 per unit and will allow jets like the Harrier to potentially conduct surveillance, close air support and electronic warfare operations all in one mission, according to officials.

Following their introduction in the worst days of the Iraq war, IEDs have emerged as insurgents’ weapon of choice in Afghanistan.

Total IED casualties in Afghanistan more than doubled from 4,124 in fiscal 2008 to 9,137 in fiscal 2010, according to the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

Not all IEDs are created equal. The most basic bombs involve a pressure plate, or detonation via an insurgent pulling a command wire. The Marine Corps’ jamming pod will disrupt bombs that are detonated remotely via radio signal by devices like cell phones.

IT II builds on a previous system flown by F/A-18s in Iraq, also used to counter insurgent use of radio signals, Kudelko said. But as the insurgent tactics changed, that pod was not flexible enough to adapt.

“Intrepid Tiger II corrected these deficiencies by using commercial, off-the-shelf technologies, along with adding re-programmable software that is able to counter current (electromagnetic) targets in Afghanistan, as well as to counter future threats,” he said.

In the future, the Corps intends to expand the frequency coverage that the IT II pod can jam, as well as add a signal detection capability, Kudelko said.

Geoffz@estripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @Stripes_GeoffZ

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