IED Defense

Moses Mingle with I2WD looks at an IED kit that shows the types of things a roadside bomb would be made out of, including soda cans. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / May 3, 2012)

Lt. Col. Bruce Ryba says radio jamming of remote-detonated IEDs has had a similar effect. Ryba heads the team that manages the Duke system — essentially, a metal box used by troops to send out signals that block cellphones and other devices insurgents use to trigger bombs.

"[Insurgents] used to have what they call a 'drop and pop,'" he said. "In five seconds, they can pull a vehicle up, stop, drop [a bomb] on the side of the road and be gone. And then the guy can stand off with radio control. Now they're forced ... to get out there and run wire. They're forced to dig holes to put the pressure plates in. So, it does expose them more where our intel assets can follow them, watch them, see them — prevent."

In 2007, Ryba says, remote-control IEDs caused 85 percent of the IED casualties. Today that has fallen to 12 percent.

Maj. Sarah Forster says she saw the effectiveness of the Duke system in Iraq. When she first deployed in 2004 as an engineer platoon leader, the enemy used remote-control IEDs, she said, "but we really had no measures to counter."

She returned in 2007 to help deploy the Duke system.

"You have just that extra boost of confidence in knowing that you have that equipment that's going to protect you," she said. "It just makes a huge difference and allows you to focus on the mission."

Crippin, the explosives expert, sees no end to the fight against IEDs.

"The bad guys are able to react quicker to what you do, and it takes longer to react to the changes that they do," Crippin said.

All of the military efforts against IEDs are "going to be successful — up to a point," he said. "But IEDs can be so unique and so definitive, you can't guard against all of them all of the time every time. No matter what you do, somebody will come up with a way to get around what you've done, and then you get to go back to start from square one."

Michael Crapanzano, deputy director of the software engineering center at the Army Communications-Electronics Command, says the Army's efforts against IEDs are evolving from what has been a wartime response to a battlefield threat to a campaign against a weapon that appears to be here to stay.

"Whatever we learn from this last effort, we want to prepare the Army to utilize these same devices potentially for any effort that the Army might [find] itself in in the next 10, 20 years," he said. "There are a lot of great capabilities here at APG now that we want to leverage off of and bring to another level."