Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Divining Rod Bomb Detectors

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

From The New York Times:

Despite major bombings that have rattled the nation, and fears of rising violence as American troops withdraw, Iraq’s security forces have been relying on a device to detect bombs and weapons that the United States military and technical experts say is useless.

The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.

Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles …

… recent bombings of government buildings here have underscored how precarious Iraq remains, especially with the coming parliamentary elections and the violence expected to accompany them.

The suicide bombers who managed to get two tons of explosives into downtown Baghdad on Oct. 25, killing 155 people and destroying three ministries, had to pass at least one checkpoint where the ADE 651 is typically deployed, judging from surveillance videos released by Baghdad’s provincial governor. The American military does not use the devices. “I don’t believe there’s a magic wand that can detect explosives,” said Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., who oversees Iraqi police training for the American military. “If there was, we would all be using it. I have no confidence that these work.”

The Iraqis, however, believe passionately in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives.

Dale Murray, head of the National Explosive Engineering Sciences Security Center at Sandia Labs, which does testing for the Department of Defense, said the center had “tested several devices in this category, and none have ever performed better than random chance.”

The Justice Department has warned against buying a variety of products that claim to detect explosives at a distance with a portable device. Normal remote explosives detection machinery, often employed in airports, weighs tons and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. The ADE 651’s clients are mostly in developing countries; no major country’s military or police force is a customer, according to the manufacturer.

“I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them,” General Jabiri said. “I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.”

Aqeel al-Turaihi, the inspector general for the Ministry of the Interior, reported that the ministry bought 800 of the devices from a company called ATSC (UK) Ltd. for $32 million in 2008, and an unspecified larger quantity for $53 million. Mr. Turaihi said Iraqi officials paid up to $60,000 apiece, when the wands could be purchased for as little as $18,500. He said he had begun an investigation into the no-bid contracts with ATSC.

Jim McCormick, the head of ATSC, based in London, did not return calls for comment.

The Baghdad Operations Command announced Tuesday that it had purchased an additional 100 detection devices, but General Rowe said five to eight bomb-sniffing dogs could be purchased for $60,000, with provable results.

Checking cars with dogs, however, is a slow process, whereas the wands take only a few seconds per vehicle. “Can you imagine dogs at all 400 checkpoints in Baghdad?” General Jabiri said. “The city would be a zoo.”

Speed is not the only issue. Colonel Bidlack said, “When they say they are selling you something that will save your son or daughter on a patrol, they’ve crossed an insupportable line into moral depravity.”

Last year, the James Randi Educational Foundation, an organization seeking to debunk claims of the paranormal, publicly offered ATSC $1 million if it could pass a scientific test proving that the device could detect explosives. Mr. Randi said no one from the company had taken up the offer.

ATSC’s promotional material claims that its device can find guns, ammunition, drugs, truffles, human bodies and even contraband ivory at distances up to a kilometer, underground, through walls, underwater or even from airplanes three miles high. The device works on “electrostatic magnetic ion attraction,” ATSC says.

To detect materials, the operator puts an array of plastic-coated cardboard cards with bar codes into a holder connected to the wand by a cable. “It would be laughable,” Colonel Bidlack said, “except someone down the street from you is counting on this to keep bombs off the streets.”

Proponents of the wand often argue that errors stem from the human operator, who they say must be rested, with a steady pulse and body temperature, before using the device.

Then the operator must walk in place a few moments to “charge” the device, since it has no battery or other power source, and walk with the wand at right angles to the body. If there are explosives or drugs to the operator’s left, the wand is supposed to swivel to the operator’s left and point at them.

If, as often happens, no explosives or weapons are found, the police may blame a false positive on other things found in the car, like perfume, air fresheners or gold fillings in the driver’s teeth.

On Tuesday, a guard and a driver for The New York Times, both licensed to carry firearms, drove through nine police checkpoints that were using the device. None of the checkpoint guards detected the two AK-47 rifles and ammunition inside the vehicle.

During an interview on Tuesday, General Jabiri challenged a Times reporter to test the ADE 651, placing a grenade and a machine pistol in plain view in his office. Despite two attempts, the wand did not detect the weapons when used by the reporter but did so each time it was used by a policeman.

“You need more training,” the general said.

Well, it’s sad, really, but Iraq has something called the University of Baghdad, which has a College of Engineering.  More than likely, no one asked them what they think about this magic IED divining rod, and Iraq has long ago reached the point where the U.S. must let them go their own way.  But the worst part of this is the failure to spend the money on bomb sniffing dogs, some of which have been deployed to Afghanistan with the Marines.  In the not too distant future, nanotechnology might be able to fill the gap.

Military Transport by Rocketship

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

Yes, you heard right. The title is correct.

In the future, U.S. troops could be on the ground in hotspots anywhere on the globe in only two hours. This may sound like science fiction, but it is exactly what a group of civilians and military officials met to talk about at a two-day conference.

The meeting’s purpose was to plan the development of the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) program. USA Today reports that the invitation to the conference called the idea a “potential revolutionary step in getting combat power to any point in the world in a timeframe unachievable today.”

The biggest challenge for the SUSTAIN program is certainly the technology. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Brown, a spokesman for the space office said that the next step in the plan is addressing technological challenges and seeking military input.

The goal of the program is to be able to insert a team of 13 soldiers anywhere on the globe in two hours. John Pike, a military analyst told USA Today, “This isn’t even science fiction. It’s fantasy.” Pike says that the concept defies physics and the reality of what a small number of lightly armed troops could accomplish.

Burt Rutan, the rocket pioneer who won the X Prize in 2004 for building a private spacecraft capable of flying into space says that the plan is technologically possible. Rutan wrote in an email to USA Today, “This has never been done. However, it is feasible. It would be a relatively expensive way to get the troops on the ground, but it could be done.”

Some things leaves one speechless. Well, not quite. Absurd. “Relatively expensive?” Try ridiculously expensive for no purpose (13 Soldiers can accomplish nothing useful). John Pike, who is smart and whom The Captain’s Journal likes, is correct. This is nothing but fantasy, but the sad part is that dollars are being wasted on even contemplating such a thing.

The litany of potential problems are too long to be enumerated (e.g., If ingress by rocketship, by what means egress? What kind of emergency could possibly warrant the deployment of troops within two hours, but only 13 troops in number? Who is going to maintain this rocketship launch capable 24 hours per day, 365 days per year? Etc.) Want “ready reserve?” That’s what Marine Expeditionary Units are for. Rather than wasting dollars on rocketships, spend them on increasing the size and deployment of Marines in ready reserve.

Fighting a Technologically Advanced Insurgency

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 8 months ago

There are many differences between insurgencies in the twenty first century and those of 100, 50, 30 or even 10 years ago.  In addition to the transnational nature of the fighters, the easy and quick access to technologically advanced and standoff weapons introduces elements that makes previous centuries of counterinsurgency experience almost meaningless.  Examples of such elements are cell phones, IEDs and in particular, EFPs.  Our quarter century old enemy Iran is busy in Afghanistan as they were (and still are) in Iraq.

The comments by the commander, who would not be named but operates in the south east of the country where there has been a surge in Taliban attacks, were a rare admission of co-operation between elements within the Iranian regime and forces fighting British and American troops in Afghanistan.

“There’s a kind of landmine called a Dragon. Iran’s sending it,” he said. “It’s directional and it causes heavy casualties.

“We’re ambushing the Americans and planting roadside bombs. We never let them relax.”

The commander, a veteran of 30 years who started fighting when the Soviet Union was occupying Afghanistan, said the Dragon had revolutionised the Taliban’s ability to target Nato soldiers deployed in his area.

“If you lay an ordinary mine, it will only cause minor damage to Humvees or one of their big tanks. But if you lay a Dragon, it will destroy it completely,” he said.

A “Dragon” is the local nickname for a type of weapon known internationally as an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) or “shaped charge” and has been used with devastating effect in Iraq by Iranian-backed groups. It is shaped so that all the explosive force is concentrated in one direction – the target – rather than blasting in all directions and weakening its impact.

A former mujahideen fighter who knows the Afghan arms market well and who asked to be known as Shahir said the Dragon mines came directly from Iran.

Iran has denied these allegations, but Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador in Kabul, said the British Army, which is deployed in south-western Afghanistan, had intercepted consignments of weapons which they believe were “donated by a group within the Iranian state”.

The only other possible source, the arms expert said, would be Pakistan’s Tribal Areas where a relatively sophisticated arms industry has grown up. “Until now,” he said, “no-one in the Tribal Areas has been able to copy these mines. Both the metal and the explosives are different, very high quality and very effective, obviously not Chinese or Pakistani.”

He said there were two routes for Iranian weaponry getting to the Taliban. “There are people inside the state in Iran who donate weapons. There are also Iranian businessmen who sell them.”

The Taliban are also employing technologically advanced communications in order to avoid electronic interdiction and eavesdropping.

Taliban fighters targeting British troops in Afghanistan are using Skype voice-over-IP phones to evade detection.

Security sources have told the Evening Standard that unlike traditional mobile calls, which can be monitored by RAF Nimrod spy planes, Skype calls are heavily encrypted.

Taliban leaders had previously been known to use satellite phones, which could be tracked and located by western forces.

The British and American governments are said to be investing resources to crack voice-over-IP (VoIP) codes.

“The trouble with this technology is that it is easily available but devilishly hard to crack,” a security source told the Standard. “The technology can now be accessed on mobile internet devices and the country’s mobile phone network is expanding rapidly.”

Skype is owned by eBay and has around 300m user accounts worldwide.

Sir David Pepper, head of government listening centre GCHQ, has previously complained that internet calls are “seriously undermining” his organisation’s ability to intercept communications.

There are suggestions as to what might be effective means to stop this use of Skype.

Simple – move to compressed data on their system.

Compressed Skype calls make life a lot easier for pattern recognition software to detect key words in the digital data stream, simply because the $trings of data are shorter.

There’s been a few reports on the subject over the last few years, but Skype has avoided making any comment for fear of upsetting its users.

Now that the issue is coming into the open, however, I strongly suspect Skype won’t have much choice.

Unless, of course, it wants to see ISPs in dodgy areas of the world like Afghanistan block the use of Skype on their Internet connections, so depriving the Net telephony company of valuable call revenue…

Maybe it’s this simple – and maybe not.  Both the U.S. DoD and the British MoD should invest as necessary to stay ahead in technology.  But we must not miss the the point concerning technology.  Playing the game of one-step-ahead is a deadly and costly way to run a campaign.

The solution to the problem of Taliban technology is to conduct intelligence driven raids against the Taliban who perpetrate the use of such technology.  Rather than the so-called high value targets with recognizable names, the real high value targets are the Taliban perpetrators, the fighters, technicians and practitioners.

 But in order to conduct intelligence driven raids against such people, we first have to have intelligence.  In order to gain the proper intelligence, the population must have security.  Maj. Gen. Jeffery J. Schloesser has said that there are as many as 11,000 insurgents operating in the Eastern part of Afghanistan.  This size insurgency requires a larger projection of power by infantry to ensure the progress of the counterinsurgency campaign.  Killing and capturing Taliban will end the threat posed by EFPs and Skype.

Army (Exoskeleton) or Marines (V-22): Who Wins?

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

The Captain’s Journal proudly stirs the pot and agitates yet another interservice kerfuffle over money – or rather, how it is spent.

We have a category for the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, and long ago strongly suspected that it would be an outstanding success in its debut deployment in Iraq.  It has been, but a recent analysis at the National Journal entitled Future Corps (an analysis which itself it worth protracted study time) points to larger problems with the aging Marine air fleet and the role of the V-22.

At the end of April, a squadron of the Marine Corps’s new V-22 Ospreys returned from the aircraft’s first overseas deployment, a seven-month tour in Iraq. The Corps trotted out pilots and ground crews to talk up the $67 million machine, a hybrid of helicopter and propeller plane whose revolutionary tilt-rotor technology took 25 years to develop and claimed 30 lives in crashes along the way.

Largely overlooked in the coverage and the controversy over the V-22 itself, however, is the fact that the aircraft was never meant to stand, or to fight, alone. The Osprey is simply the single most expensive element of an ambitious plan to re-equip the Marine Corps to execute a new kind of sea-based blitzkrieg.

Marine officers began to develop the concept, often called “operational maneuver from the sea,” a quarter-century ago at the height of the Cold War, when the rise of advanced anti-ship missiles was already threatening any fleet massed for a conventional, large-scale landing in the style of Iwo Jima. Today, the V-22 and key technologies like it are finally entering service in a world radically different from the one in which they were conceived–a world in which some of the weapons that the Soviets developed 25 years ago are now in the hands of guerrillas and terrorists in developing countries.

For the Marine Corps, looking forward to a large-scale pullback from Iraq even as it takes on a new mission in Afghanistan, the vision is not merely about new technology. It is about returning to the Corps’s historic role as a shipborne rapid-reaction force after five years of grueling ground warfare alongside the Army.

“We’re not a second land army,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Benes, the director of expeditionary warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations’ staff. “We can always be used to complement the [Army’s] mission on the ground, and we don’t shy away from a fight,” he emphasized. “But our real traditional role of being a naval force is what we want to get back to.”

To carry out this old role in a new way with new equipment, however, will be expensive. Like the Army, the Marine Corps has worn out in Iraq much of its inventory of weapons, aircraft, and vehicles, most of which were bought during the Reagan-era buildup. Unlike the Army, which has packaged its main modernization programs into a single, high-profile, hard-to-explain and heavily criticized Future Combat System, Marine modernization is scattered across a half-dozen programs, some small enough to fly below most media and congressional radars. What’s more, because the future Marine force will be carried into battle on Navy ships built with Navy money, about a sixth of the total cost to realize the Corps’s vision will not be counted in the Corps’s budget …

“There were a lot of arguments for and against the V-22,” said Robert Work, a retired Marine colonel who is an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Five years ago, I was not a fan. But the bottom line is, now there really is no other option. The war has essentially worn out the Marine Corps helicopter fleet. The V-22 is the answer we’re going to make work” …

The Osprey’s speed and range are arguably overkill for Iraq, where most missions are short-range hops in and out of the many U.S. bases. Its aptitude for altitude, however, has already proven useful: Insurgents have shot down conventional U.S. helicopters with machine guns, but the V-22 can climb to 13,000 feet, too high to hit with small-arms fire. Insurgents have occasionally used shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which can reach higher targets, but flying higher than conventional helicopters gives Osprey pilots more reaction time to drop flares and evade.

A rumored deployment of V-22s to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are spread thin over vast distances and at high altitudes, should be a better test of the V-22’s performance. But where the Osprey really shines is at even longer ranges. When the marines first deployed from their ships to Afghanistan in 2001, for example, they had to move in laborious stages from the Indian Ocean with the help of landing areas in Pakistan. With the V-22, the same force could have flown over Pakistani territory and hit the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in two hours.

And for the Army future combat system?  It includes things like the exoskeleton.

A complex interconnected array of computers, motors, servos, electronic feedback loops, load bearing members and batteries which deplete far too quickly, the exoskeleton is supposed to assist the Soldier in the field by amplifying human movements.

The Marines say “uh, huh.”  Batteries which wear out, a system that is heavy and bulky and uncomfortable, weeks or even months of training required to use it, the inability to perform mounted patrols, untold and yet to be determined equipment interference problems – where is the body armor, hydration system, backpack, weapon and ammunition going to go – and the likelihood that upon (the highly probable) malfunction it will be jettisoned in the field, and the Marines will probably respond: “The V-22 flies.  You might not like what we spent to get it there, but at least we didn’t throw money after that monstrosity.  Are you proud of yourselves?”

Why not spend the money on technology for lighter ballistic (SAPI) plates to decrease battlespace weight for the U.S. warrior?  We have previously said that this needs to be done.  Is anyone listening?

The Taliban and Their Telephones

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 3 months ago

Several days ago I noted that the Taliban were worried about the technological advantages the U.S. could leverage against them, but at the time I thought, “don’t they understand – surely they won’t carry through with this ridiculous threat?”

The Taliban threatened Monday to attack mobile phone facilities in Afghanistan, alleging that the technology was being used at night to pin-point the Islamic rebels’ hideouts.

Zabihullah Mujahed, a rebel spokesman, said that several phone companies had been given three days to respond to militants’ demands that they cut night time operations or face attacks, notably on antennas erected across the country.

“The invading forces are using mobile phones for military purposes,” Mujahed told AFP, referring to about 60,000 foreign personnel deployed in Afghanistan to hunt down Taliban militants who are waging a deadly insurgency.

“Usually during the nights the mobile phones are being used to spy on the Taliban to track down their footpaths. Here we ask the (mobile) companies to halt their operations from five o’clock in the evening to seven in the morning,” he said.

With 700 million dollars of investment, the burgeoning communications industry is one of the biggest development projects in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

According to the country’s telecommunications ministry, over five million Afghans are currently using mobile phones, provided by five mainly foreign companies.

“The Taliban themselves are using mobile phone for communications,” he said.

No phone company can stay in business by intentionally shutting down their service, so it was an impossible set of conditions to meet.  Nevertheless, the Taliban have carried through with their threat.

Taliban militants blew up a telecommunications tower Friday in southern Afghanistan following a warning to phone companies to shut down the towers at night or face attack.

The militants fear U.S. and other foreign troops are using mobile phone signals to track insurgents and launch attacks against them. A Taliban spokesman on Monday said militants would blow up towers across Afghanistan if the companies did not switch off their signals overnight.

Insurgents made good on that threat Friday, destroying a tower along the main highway in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, said Niaz Mohammad Serhadi, the top district official.

Phone companies moved into remote areas of Afghanistan after talks with tribal elders, who asked for the towers to be built, said Abdul Hadi Hadi, spokesman for the Telecommunications Ministry.

“When they destroy any tower, it shows direct enmity to the people of that area. I don’t think the destruction of the towers has any direct effect on the government. It is the people who suffer,” he said.

Thousands of customers will be affected by the tower attack, Serhadi said. Police have increased security around other phone towers, he said.

Communications experts say the U.S. military has the ability, using satellites and other means, to pick up cell phone signals without the phone company’s help. Cell phones periodically send signals to the network even when they are not making calls.

The frequent cell phone pings to locate towers are well known, but this leads to the inevitable question, “why wouldn’t they just turn their cell phones off?”

Use of the mobile networks for intelligence is an obvious step which is well-nigh certain to have been taken, just as governments have done in every country. And it’s well known that masts can be used to locate a phone which is powered up.

What’s less clear is why the Taliban have chosen to demand a shutdown of mast signals at night. Even the most paranoid phone-security advisers would normally suggest taking the battery out of one’s phone, rather than menacing local cell operators unless they went off the air. (The idea of removing the battery is to guard against someone having modified the phone to switch itself on without the owner’s knowledge.)

It could be that the Taliban want to operate their own networks, of course. Micro/pico/femtocell equipment is widely available, and there’s said to be a strong tradition in wild and woolly rural Afghanistan of unregulated, private wireless comms. It might be that guerrilla commanders merely want to clear other operators off the spectrum so that they can use it themselves.

Even so, Western military or spook electronic-intelligence units will still be able to intercept, identify, locate and track active mobile phones in an area of interest, even if they are communicating (or meant to be communicating) only with Taliban-controlled cells. The reported threats still don’t make a huge amount of sense in terms of the reasons given.

Another possibility is that the Taliban simply want to deny ordinary Afghans phone service at night, perhaps to stop people reporting on militia movements and/or prevent them phoning for help if attacked. Or it might be that the Taliban – the Taliban press office, anyway – simply isn’t up on the technical issues.

The later seems most likely.  If it weren’t for the disruption in phone coverage and the potential for harm to humans, the thought of the Taliban wasting ordnance on cell phone towers when they could simply power down their phones at night would bring a smile to my face.  In addition to creating a disruption in their own cell phone service, this version of “winning hearts and minds” is sure to be a bomb – so to speak.

Pentagon Supercomputer Powers IED-Hunting

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 6 months ago

Popular Mechanics tells us about a Pentagon program that couples advanced computer technology with UAVs to aid in IED-hunting.  The program relies on physical terrain mapping by the use of UAVs along with a Cray supercomputer to utilize the information gleaned from the survey data.  These two things, when combined with “learning” algorithms (i.e., artificial intelligence), are intended to produce knowledge of the battle space for the warrior thousands of miles away.

Half a world away from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, nestled near the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, a 34-year-old electrical engineer is wielding one of the planet’s most powerful computers to lend a virtual helping hand to American soldiers. Joshua Fairley’s detailed 3D modeling of warzone scenes, based at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Miss., has vastly improved the effectiveness of airborne sensors in scoping out deadly ground-based threats.Deployed in space or on aircraft—often in UAVs—electro-optical and infrared sensors scan urban and rural terrain for explosive devices. Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) algorithms then digitally decipher the fuzzy images, picking out the mines from the manholes and the bombs from the bushes. At least that’s the hope, with visual clutter triggering regular false alarms. One very time-consuming and expensive way to improve the sensors would be to fly the systems repeatedly, performing case study after case study. Instead, Fairley and his team have used the ERDC’s Cray XT3, the Defense Department’s second most powerful supercomputer, capable of 40 trillion computations per second, to simulate landscapes from combat and do the case studies in a lab on American soil.What makes the work stand out is the level of detail they are achieving: By taking into account soil types, plant distribution, species of plants and even the distinct characteristics of those species, Fairley says his team has processed data “literally down to the weeds.” Soon, the Army Corps researchers hope to model beneath the ground. Why? “Each plant takes up a certain amount of moisture through its roots,” explains Fairley, who once designed sensors for Lockheed Martin. “That moisture could affect localized temperature, which affects the ability to detect a threat.” Fairley then uses the sensors to scan these “synthetic images” for potential hazards, taking note of how well the sensors function under certain weather conditions, at certain times of year and even different times of day. That way he can write complex new algorithms to “teach” the sensors, some of which take thermal readings, to distinguish harmless objects from threats. In one case study, he cut the false alarm rate by 75 percent. Results like that, he says, “will benefit the well-being and health of our warfighters, which is a reason why I get up in morning and come to work.”

While the best intelligence is still human, in a campaign that has seen its fair share of unpreparedness for the enemy tactics, this is welcome advancement.  The technology is basically one of finding what is out of place – the old game of “what doesn’t belong in this picture?”  As long as the UAV coverage is sufficient, the computing should be able to cope.  Still … Crays?  I thought that the Cray had disappeared with the dinosaur?  I thought most supercomputing was done now with multiple RISC processors communicating via message passing (MPI), similar to the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Blue Mountain computer?

As it turns out, Cray has apparently kept up with technology, or so they say, and the “vector processor of the Cray XT5h system has unique global addressing capabilities programmable by Co-Array Fortran and Unified Parallel C (UPC), which can solve problems beyond the capabilities of MPI.”

It would have been nice if Popular Mechanics had followed this story up with a discussion on the type of computer being used and why the choice had been made.  In any case, this is good leveraging of our technological advantage to aid in the campaign in Iraq, even if the timing is later than desirable.  A followup article should be issued in the future to report on the effectiveness of this program.  Theory is good, but results are proof of principle.

The Ebb and Flow of IED Warfare: U.S. Lives are at Stake

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 1 month ago

Due in part to a failure to listen adequately to Eric Shinseki and Anthony Zinni regarding Iraq war planning, along with premature cessation of conventional operations (bypassing large urban areas leading to costly MOUT later in the war) and halting invocation or implementation of counterinsurgency TTPs, the Iraq campaign has been problematic.  In Concerning the Failure of Counterinsurgency in Iraq, I said “we were utterly unprepared for the toll that IEDs would take on U.S. troops, and even after it became obvious that this was a leading tactic of the enemy, we reacted with lethargy.”  IEDs became one of the two most effective weapons of the insurgents, specifically because of two reasons: their cheap and ready availability, and the fact that they are a stand-off weapon, something unthinkable for the insurgents 40 or 50 years ago.

Sometimes the most effective countermeasure to the tactics of the insurgency is human manpower.  The Government Accounting Office tells us just how this is relevant for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Unattended Iraqi ammunition depots provide the majority of explosives used by insurgents to attack U.S. and coalition troops with improvised explosive devices, according to a Government Accountability Office report released April 27.

“There’s an unknown number of sites that remain unsecured today,? GAO Director Davi D’Agostino said.

Drawing from after-action reports and input from military leaders, the report blames inadequate Operation Iraqi Freedom planning for the unsecured munitions.

“According to lessons-learned reports and senior level DoD officials, the widespread looting occurred because DoD had insufficient troop levels to secure conventional munitions,? the report states.

IED attacks, using conventional explosives, are four times higher than when the war began in 2003, said Christine Devries, spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Office.

“Looted munitions are being used to make improvised explosive devices that have killed or maimed many people and will likely continue to support terrorist attacks in the region,? according to the report.

For a period of time the U.S. has enjoyed some degree of success in countering the effect of IEDs by jamming the signals from the insurgents to detonate them (sometimes from cell phones).  Electronics has been put to good use in Iraq, but in case the reader hasn’t noticed, this enjoyment has diminished recently, and there is an increasing trend again in successful IED attacks apparently because the insurgents are employing electronics against us.

In 2006, the Pentagon spent $1.4 bn to develop sophisticated counter measures for roadside bombs, which account for more US deaths in Iraq than any other weapon. They were designed to locate and detonate the improvised explosive devices IEDs from afar, before American convoys drove past the spot where they are planted.

One such system has a sense of smell which sniffs out the presence of explosives; another uses radio beams to jam the IED’s electronic signals.

Soon after they were fitted on US military vehicles and went into successful use, al Qaeda came up with a device capable of disarming both US electronic measures by electronic circuits. The Islamist terrorists thus escalated their challenge to the US military by introducing electronic warfare.

Their success has boosted the US and British death toll in Iraq. Of the 50 US and UK soldiers who died in Iraq in the first 9 days of April, 30 were killed by IEDs. Al Qaeda’s mystery device is believed by military experts to account for the soaring rate of effective roadside bomb hits on American vehicles, even those fitted with the new counter-measures.

The Pentagon department entrusted with finding a new solution, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, is working day and night to produce a new counter-measure which is not susceptible to the al Qaeda blocker.

In the ebb and flow of IED warfare, U.S. lives are at stake and time is of the essence.  For the sniper threat there have been several tactics and countermeasures employed, including but not limited to satellite patrols and better body armor.  For IEDs, the two most effective countermeasures appear to be manpower and electronics.

More Investigation on Snipers and Body Armor

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 4 months ago

I have fairly extensively covered (links below) the newly-engineered Modular Tactical Vest (MTV) to be in use with Marines early in 2007, replacing the Interceptor body armor system. Now, enter the main stream media, with what can only be characterized as feel-good, softball coverage that creates more questions than it answers and stirs the pot without adding anything to the state of knowledge of the body armor situation. CBS News recently had an article entited “For Marines, ‘MTV’ Means Something New.” David Martin begins his article telling us why he began investigating the story.

One of the things that made October such a bloody month for American troops was a dramatic increase in sniper attacks. The U.S. military refuses to say exactly how many sniper attacks there were or how successful they were on the ground; that is information the enemy could use.

Let’s pause here for a moment. In my article Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops, using information taken directly from MSM reports, I discussed how snipers in Iraq (and mainly in the Anbar Province) were becoming seasoned enough to aim for gaps in the body armor of Marines, particularly the arm pits where there were gaps in side SAPI plate coverage. This is widely known within the military, and modifications in body armor have been targeted to ameliorate these weaknesses. So one would naturally assume that the improvements of the MTV over the Interceptor at least in part pertain to this issue. And one would naturally assume that a media article would discuss this. Right? Continuing:

But this will give you some idea: There were more sniper attacks in the first 10 days of October than in the entire month of September. There are insurgent videos on the Internet that show American soldiers being killed, along with an interview with a guy who claims to be the commander of the Baghdad sniper brigade. Boasting of his accomplishments, he says a book called “The Ultimate Sniper,” produced by a former U.S. Army major and distributed by a U.S.-based publishing house, “is one of the main books we use to train our snipers.”

I was looking into all of this, and as part of that story, went down to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va. to see a new body armor vest that will be issued to Marines heading to Iraq early next year.

The idea was to try on the body armor to see how protective it is against sniper fire. The Marine vest shields the torso against 7.62 millimeter ammunition (which is what an AK-47 fires) and below, but the head and the neck are still exposed. The helmet will stop shrapnel but not a round from a high-powered sniper rifle.

The Marines who were showing us the equipment said the Corps is spending $33 million for 60,000 of the new vests and that most of the improvements had come from ideas submitted by Marines fighting in Iraq.

The vest is officially called the Modular Tactical Vest and so, not surprisingly, there were “I Want My MTV” headlines about it in the Marine Times.

What did surprise me, though, was the Army’s interest in the story. I couldn’t figure out why the Army had such an interest in a story about Marine Corps body armor until I saw a letter to the editor in Stars and Stripes, an independent newspaper widely read by troops overseas.

The letter’s author complained that an article about the MTV “implied the Marine Corps’ new [body armor] is superior to the Army’s. … This is a disservice to soldiers wearing [the Army’s body armor].” So, that was why the Army was so interested in my story; they thought that it would create the impression that Marines were wearing better body armor than Army soldiers.

For the record, the MTV uses the same ballistic shields as the Army body armor. The differences have to do with the way it fits on your body and the way it allows a Marine to carry all his combat gear.

To me, the Marine vest felt more comfortable because it distributes the 30-pound weight over your entire torso instead of having the weight hanging on your shoulders. But it still leaves some very vital parts of your body exposed to a sniper.

As for that former U.S. Army major who produced “The Ultimate Sniper” — he’s not returning phone calls.

This is interesting for a main stream media report. Martin’s piece suddenly leaves the arena of the investigative and Martin becomes a mouthpiece for a byline to assuage concerns over body armor: “For the record, the MTV uses the same ballistic shields as the Army body armor. The differences have to do with the way it fits on your body …”

I have been told this too in response to my articles on body armor. The fact is that this statement is both true and totally incomplete. It paints the wrong picture, and those who traffic in such statements know it.

The Strategy Page helps in our understanding of the MTV, saying that “The U.S. Marine Corps is reequipping with new body armor. The Modular Tactical Vests protect more of the upper torso, while providing more freedom of movement. While weighing the same as the current vest, the new vest feels lighter because the weight is distributed more efficiently.”

Stars and Stripes is perhaps even more direct and informative, saying that “The new vests, which the Corps was expected to discuss Monday, are designed to provide added protection to the side of the torso, the lower back and the kidney area, Capt. Jeff Landis said in a Thursday e-mail to Stars and Stripes.”

The fact is that the MTV is designed to provide better protection against well-aimed rounds from snipers, giving more SAPI plate coverage for the Marine or Soldier. So why would there be a “byline” to begin with? The Stars and Stripes article gives us a hint as to why:

He said the Marine Corps believes the MTVs offer the best protection possible for Marines.

In addition to improved protection, the MTVs also have a Velcro attachment that allow rifle butts to fit better against a Marine’s shoulder to ensure accuracy, Landis said.

Soldiers will likely not get their new body armor until fiscal 2010 or 2012.

But the Army is looking at whether it can send the body armor component of the Future Force Warrior system downrange early, said Dutch DeGay, an equipment specialist at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts.

“Our body armor, that we call the chassis, the U.S. Army Infantry School is drafting a capability production document on that body armor, on that design to see if it would be possible to build that early before 2010 or ’12 to get that in the field,? DeGay said.

He could not say when the report will be completed.

The body armor is a component of a much larger package of equipment for U.S. soldiers known as the Future Force Warrior system.

The other parts of the system include a new helmet, electronic equipment and uniform.

The body armor component would have up to six ceramic ballistic plates, compared with the two plates that are part of current body armor, DeGay said.

The plates themselves are 12 percent larger than current Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI) and are shaped to provide more protection along the spine and cut down on gaps between the front, back and side protection, Natick officials said.

Once again, it may be true that the SAPI plates are manufactured to the same specifications in both the MTV and the Interceptor. But this isn’t the same thing as saying that the SAPI plate coverage is equivalent. What we do learn, however, is that the Army has a different plan. This plan includes modification of the body armor system as a subset of the a total package that includes much more than body armor, and this system will not be available until several years down the road. The Marines are suffering sniper attacks in the Anbar province, and need something now. The Army feels that they can wait.

Is this acceptable? Should monies be made available for an MTV-like solution for the Army in addition to the more complete warrior system of the future? Should the system of the future be brought on line sooner at the expense of certain elements so that the soldier can have more SAPI plate coverage? Should monies be made available by congress for both the Marines and Army to bring on line better body armor, without regard to how these monies are obtained (i.e., politics notwithstanding)?

These and other questions are salient, and deserve discussion and debate. Silly statements like “For the record, the MTV uses the same ballistic shields as the Army body armor,” and emotionally charged letters to the editor of Stars and Stripes add nothing to the discussion.

It is statements just like these that cause Marines, Soldiers and military parents and spouses to be suspicious of the so-called “military industrial complex.” Honest discussion is always accepted, even if there is disagreement. Subterfuge always causes suspicion. And powder puff reporting by the MSM is as always, irrelevant.


Silly String and IEDs

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 5 months ago

I might be behind the news cycles a bit on this, but there is an interesting story concerning innovation and adaptation from troops in Iraq.  Hat tip to Arms and the Law, troops have discovered that they can find trip wires by shooting silly string at them:

Dear KSFO Listeners,

My good friend Deborah Johns, Vice-President of Marine Moms of Northern California, whose son William has is now serving his third tour of duty, sent me this very important letter.

Hi Melanie,

I have heard from William for the first time in 3 months. I was so excited to get a call from him. He told me that the Marines really have the pressure on the insurgents and the Marines are really uncovering big stuff that makes it difficult for them. William also said that good things are happening and to let everyone know, and to hang in there with them and keep supporting them because they need the support of the American people.

William also said that they need handwarmers because it is cold and more importantly–send Silly String. They are able to dispense that stuff from 10 feet away and it will detect trip wires that are not visible to the naked eye and saves their lives before entering a building. He said the Silly String just floats through the air and lays gently on any trip wire and works pretty cool. If there are no trip wires then it just falls and hits the ground.  So, we are trying to send any Silly String possible.

Thought you might like to know some good news from the battle field.

Love, Deb

No high tech gadgetry or gear necessary.  Purchasing it from Walmart and sending it over by mail is the most efficient way to put it in the hands of the troops.  If a defense contractor gets hold of the idea and it becomes part of the DoD budget, the cost will go up by three orders of magnitude (product testing, product QA, management oversight of the program, retirement benefits, etc.).

Technology Transfer to the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 6 months ago

The U.S. is engaging in three categories of technology transfer to the enemy: (1) It is bad but almost impossible to stop, (2) It is extremely bad and we should do a much better job of stopping it, and (3) It is extremely bad and we are intentionally doing it.

It is bad but almost impossible to stop

At Chronicles of War, John Little is covering the issue of the Technical Mujahid.  CENTCOM has published an update to “What Extremists are Saying” that outlines the basics of a new computer hardware, software and file management protocol for jihadists.

The first issue of what is indicated to be a period magazine, “Technical Mujahid? [Al-Mujahid al-Teqany], published by al-Fajr Information Center, was electronically distributed to password-protected jihadist forums Tuesday, November 28, 2006.

This edition, 64-pages in length, contains articles that primarily deal with computer and Internet security, in addition to other pieces explaining Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites and video types, editing, and encoding into different formats. The editors of the publication state that it was written to heed the directives of the Emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and his call for technical support. Material such as this, regarding anonymity on the Internet, concealing of personal files locally on a computer, and utilizing all schemes of encryption, is to serve as electronic jihad, and a virtual means of supporting the Mujahideen.

Jihad, as a philosophy, religion and world view, is utterly incapable of sustaining technological development.  If it were possible to stop all technological development in the U.S., it is likely that jihadist technology would stay static, or freeze in place.  But because software and information technology is so readily available (consider the staggering amount of source code available over the web for free), jihadists will make ready use of this technology.  The strategy here might be to stay several steps ahead of the enemy by waging a better technology war than they do.

It is extremely bad and we should do a much better job of stopping it

The Strategy Page has this concerning technology espionage of our air defense program:

American federal prosecutors revealed that they are trying an Indian born American citizen, Noshir S. Gowadia, on charges of spying for China. Gowadia is alleged to have sold China details of the B-2 bombers engine exhaust system. This technology makes it more difficult for heat sensors (like heat seeking missiles) to detect the exhaust of the B-2 engines. Gowadia is also alleged to have helped Chinese engineers apply this technology to the design of a stealthy cruise missile. The secrets Gowadia sold would also make it easier for the Chinese to detect a B-2 bomber. Gowadia is supposed to have helped China with other matters relating to stealth technology.

Gowadia has apparently been running a Hawaii based spy ring since 1999, and made six clandestine trips to China. Gowadia worked on the B-2 project from 1968 to 1986, as one of the designers. Gowadia was arrested a year ago, and his trial will begin next Summer. He could get life in prison if convicted.

China is interested in upgrading the quality of its weapons systems, and will take every opportunity to steal military and technological secrets.  Similar to the Wen Ho Lee incident (concerning the miniturization of nuclear weapons), when the secrets are of so much importance and the loss of them so damaging, the level of security must be commensurate with this risk.  This sort of thing just cannot happen if the U.S. is to stay secure from its enemies.

It is extremely bad and we are intentionally doing it

In Our Dirty Little Secret: Technology Proliferation, I have covered the issue of higher education, and how U.S. universities are training the next generation of  PhDs in sensitive areas such as nuclear engineering, bacteriology, biochemistry, biotechnology research, microbiology and neuroscience, and atomic, chemical, molecular and nuclear physics.  Approximately 10% of the degrees awarded in these areas were awarded to students from 26 countries that are on the State Department “watch? list as being state sponsors of terrorism, including Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt and Jordan.

American universities are doing this with full knowledge that they are training students who do not have U.S. citizenship, will not stay in the U.S., and could potentially use the knowledge against the U.S.  And it continues unabated … while the citizens of America trust the government to keep them safe.

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