One of the most urgent technical challenges facing the U.S. is defeating Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Of the 421 military deaths in 2007 through the end of May, 298 were killed by IEDs, according to a June 1 New York Times article. Untold numbers of Iraqis and others have also died from this insurgent’s weapon of choice. Even if we left Iraq tomorrow, IEDs will invariably be used in many future conflicts, so effective counter measures means saving some number of sons and daughters.
Responding to the threat, the military created the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to come up with technologies that “predict, prevent, detect, neutralize, mitigate or train our forces to execute C-(counter) IED measures.” JIEDDO is soliciting proposals for C-IED that can be “fielded” in the next six to 18 months. According to the Dept. of Defense, spending in 2007 will top the $3.5 billion spent last year (includes heavier vehicle armor).
Among the technologies listed are radar, directed energy systems, knowledge management, imaging, modeling and simulation. We encourage Design News’ readers with an idea about how to defeat IEDs to submit proposals to JIEDDO or to us. The collective powers of innovation across our readership is immense and no one can argue the pressing need to win the war on this weapon.
One very visual technology getting play on the evening news are robots that can detect and inspect IEDs. Often, they don’t look much different than a remote control toy car. But a picture (see photo) of the MARCbot (Multi-function Agile Remote Control Robot) peering through a hole in a cardboard box gives you the idea. Developed by the Army for its Rapid Equipping Force, the MARCbot started performing IED sweeps in May, 2004. Each one costs around $10,000.
Another contender is iRobot’s new PackBot 510 EOD (Explosive Ordnance Device) robot introduced in February. Yes, this is the same company that developed the Roomba vacuuming and Scooba floor washing robots. And last year, iRobot in partnership with John Deere built the R-Gator prototypes based in its robotic controls and Deere’s M-Gator military utility vehicle.
Outsmarting the bombers is becoming big business, but technology is not a silver bullet. It must work in concert with intelligence, training and rooting out the bombers where they live. “The best sensor and weapon on the battlefield is a well-trained, situationally aware soldier, sailor, airman or marine,” according to the JIEDDO mission statement. Its strategy is “Attack the Network, Defeat the Device and Train the Force” and no doubt, technology is a big part of that.
Most IED and military experts say better intelligence to break up cells of insurgents who use IEDs is the most effective deterrent. Carrying that idea forward, reducing the number of “angry and unemployed men” willing to set off IEDs, and sometimes themselves, is perhaps the long-term answer, says the Times article. Until then, technology, soldiers and engineers must come to the rescue.
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