a scenario from Afghanistan, a civilian dressed in a white robe
stood outside in front of a green background underneath a small,
About 200 feet away, in a tent filled with
monitors and computers, an analyst looked at output from an array of
sensors that were pointed at the man, and determined he was wearing
some sort of explosive device.
"He looks fit to shoot," said
one of the engineers who work on the "Standoff Suicide Bomb
Detection System," or SSBDS. It's one of the many projects funded by
the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency under development that
were on display on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Nov. 17, 2015.
"The SSBDS is the Department of Defense's only
system-of-systems approach to detecting personnel-borne IEDs
[improvised explosive devices]," said the engineer from the
Communications Electronics Research Development and
Engineering Command night vision labs, who asked not to
reveal his name. "We use a multitude of different sensing
modalities, because there isn't a single silver bullet,
single sensor that works all the time in all places."
Spaced out between the man in the robe and the tent with
all the gear was an array of sensors including visible
imagers, mid-wave and longwave infrared imagers, and a
terahertz imager. All are commercial off-the-shelf sensors.
Fort Belvoir, VA (Nov. 17, 2015) -- On the left is U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Mayco O. McKeever, with the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency, showing Defense News reporter Jen Judson how to use the Minehound
dual-sensor metal detector. On the right is a remotely controlled robot displaying its manual dexterity. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from photos by U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)
"They cover one another's blind spots and
vulnerabilities," the engineer said. "As conditions change
through the day, one might work better than the other. So it
keeps you covered."
The engineer said that at one
point, a team took the system to Afghanistan to evaluate it
in a real-world environment at an entry control point on a
forward operating base.
Using the SSBDS, the team aided
security teams there in screening personnel who were being brought
onto the installation. They ended up being asked to stay for 18
months with their equipment, he said. Five rotations of teams came
through, and they trained them all as operators of the system.
While the team was in Afghanistan, they didn't catch anybody
trying to come onto the base with an explosive device, but within
weeks of their departure, the forward operating base was attacked.
The engineer speculated that their SSBDS might have acted as a kind
of intimidation factor that kept would-be terrorists from trying to
come on to the installation.
"They knew we had something," he
said. "It's like putting the ADT sign in front of your house. Go
find a softer target."
Future work on the SSBDS, he said, is
expected to include additional sensors to make the system more
diverse and tailorable for different environments. Additionally,
they hope to make the system more portable and compact and easy to
The Joint Improvised Explosive
Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, was established in 2006 to
counter the growing threat of IEDs being experienced in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Earlier this year, JIEDDO was realigned under the
Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology
and Logistics. The new agency is now called Joint Improvised-Threat
Defeat Agency, or JIDA.
Lt. Gen. Michael H. Shields, JIDA's
director since July 30, said the organization has become smaller
over the last two years, and now has fewer employees and a smaller
budget. The agency is down now to only 400 employees with
contractors to support the mission, and a budget of about $500
JIDA provides not only material solutions to defeat
IEDs including gear, but also substantial intelligence and
analytical capability to learn about and to defeat IED networks.
JIDA, Shields said, maintains three distinct efforts that he
characterized as "attack the network," "defeat the device," and
"train the force."
Now smaller, he said, it's now "more
important for us to leverage other organizations and agencies with
similar tech outreach capacity," leaning heavily on academia and
industry partners as well.
At JIEDDO, the agency's name made
it clear that the focus was on the IED, called the "signature
weapon" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new organization
has a new name, suggesting a focus on "improvised threats," rather
than just IEDs.
Shields emphasized that JIDA still maintains
a "laser focus" on IEDs, but said the agency now has a broader
focus. That broader focus is a response, in part, to ISIL, which is
working now with new agents such as industrial chemicals like
chlorine, he said.
JIDA is also looking at using new ways to
innovate and improve existing technology, by asking scientists to
reduce weight or size or power usage for existing systems, and by
using existing sensors in new ways.
assuming the role as director of the newly-created JIDA, Shields has
visited both Iraq and Afghanistan, meeting with commanders there,
with special operations forces, with the rapid equipping force, with
partner nations and with Iraqi and Afghan militaries to discuss the
threats that are being seen now in those areas, posed by enemies
such as ISIL.
"This is not the fight we faced when I was a
brigade commander in 2005-2006 in Iraq," Shields said. "This is very
organized. They [ISIL] have an industrial capacity to produce IEDs.
It's not a terrorist organization that is using them to achieve a
terrorist effect. They are using them in vast quantities to help
isolate and shape the battle space, in almost phased types of
operations. They are covering them with observation and fires. It's
caused the Iraqis and folks to re-think how we deal with these
Pointing out the sophistication of the enemy,
Shields cited ISIL's "incredible capacity" to produce and deploy
IEDs, sometimes as many as 30 at once, an "innovative use of crush
switches in buildings," house-borne IEDs, as well as anti-lift and
anti-tamper IEDs. All, he said, are achieving a "comprehensive
effect against Iraqi security forces."
The general also
pointed to ISIL's use of vehicle-borne IEDs "as their
precision-guided munitions," though recently Iraqi Security Forces
have proven successful in their effort to stymie ISIL's use of
vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs.
the United States had a large and active presence in Iraq and
Afghanistan, JIEDDO had more accurate and up-to-date information
about the types of IEDs being used there and the frequency and
location of their use. Now that the large U.S. presence is gone, he
said, that flow of information has diminished. He said the agency is
looking for ways to restart that flow of accurate and timely
information so they can work better to defeat those threats.
"If we could get improved reporting from Iraqi security forces ... "
he said. "Reporting has to improve and then knowing what to report
and being able to articulate why exploitation is so critical.
He said it's important to articulate to ISF why capturing
information and reporting information about IED encounters is
crucial. Also important, he said, is establishing "a baseline bit of
information" that should be captured and then having that
information fed back to where JIDA can use it.
One solution to help Iraqi forces forward timely,
accurate information regarding IEDs to JIDA is called "Virtual
Advice and Assist," or VAA, Shields said.
"We provide them a
capability where they can catalog and capture and so forth," he
said. "In a sense, meta-data tag the information and then bring it
In a situation where U.S. Soldiers are not allowed to
leave their installation in Iraq, but where they might want to be
able to help Iraqi Security Forces disarm and exploit an IED they
have found, as part of VAA, a tablet computing device could be
issued to those Iraqi security forces. Those Iraqi security forces
could then take that device out to the location of the IED they have
found, and consult with American counterparts in real time over the
network to disarm it, and to document key information about what
they have found.
The VAA has been used in Afghanistan, Iraq,
and Africa as a proof of concept and feedback from the warfighter is
that the capability looks promising.
David Gregory, JIDAs
chief engineer for deployed information technology, explained how
JIDA is using another technology called the JIDA Expeditionary Team
kit, or JET, to put the agency's capability out into the field. The
JET kit, in version 1 right now, has been around since 2013. It fits
inside just three backpacks and allows JIDA analysts to go out into
the field and bring the agency's IED intelligence and analytical
support to a unit, but with minimal impact on that unit.
kit includes a router, some computers, a VOIP phone, and a small
satellite dish to gain Internet connectivity through Department of
"When they go forward to a unit ... we
outfit them if the need is there, with a tailored system for their
specific needs - for JIDA's needs," Gregory said. "They don't fall
in on a unit and with their hands out asking for support. We send
that with them."
The kit allows a small team, two personnel,
to connect to JIDA's "attack the network tool suite," Gregory said,
that includes a suite of software applications, custom built, using
databases and data sources from around the world. The JET kit
provides classified and unclassified capability and also allows
users to dial into a video teleconference as well. These tools allow
the JET to fuse intelligence about IED networks from national
resources with forward tactical operations.
Gregory also said
JIDA is working on a newer "JET Plus" kit that will support a team
of seven to ten individuals, instead of the two that are supported
by JET. The kit comes with a larger satellite dish to support more
data throughput and more people.
Gregory said that also on
the horizon is to include hand-held units with the JET kits, such as
smart phones, for instance, that can be brought right out to where
American forces meet with Iraqi or Afghan forces.
intended for an American Special Forces Soldier, who is
shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi police," he said. "He'll be
receiving updates. He can show that guy, in whatever language it
needs to be in."
He said the effort is about moving critical
information out of the classified networks, where it is hidden and
unavailable to most, "directly into the hands of people who need
By U.S. Army C. Todd Lopez
Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency
Comment on this article