So says LTG Michael Oates, director of JIEDDO. Yeah, that JIEDDO: the Joint IED Defeat Organization.
IED attacks in Iraq have plummeted, you surely won't be surprised to learn.
Oates said technological advances have enabled the military to save lives by providing better armor and other forms of protection for troops. But he said the high-tech approach -- despite billions of dollars in research -- has failed to produce an effective way to detect IEDs in the field. About four-fifths of the devices that are found before they explode are detected the old-fashioned way: by troops who notice telltale signs, such as a recently disturbed patch of dirt that might be covering up a bomb.
Despite the insurgents' crude approach, the explosive power of their IEDs is growing. Each bombing in Afghanistan, on average, causes 50 percent more casualties than it did three years ago, Oates said Wednesday at a House committee hearing. U.S. officials say even armored troop-transport vehicles that were designed to protect against roadside bombs are now vulnerable.
Oates credited U.S. countermeasures -- such as interrupting the flow of military-grade explosives and detonators from Iran -- for some of the decrease. Other military officials said a bigger factor was the overall reduction in the intensity of the insurgency; as sectarian fighting faded, people simply stopped planting bombs.Chicken or egg? Seems to me that while the interdiction of high-end bomb materials from outside the country would certainly have helped stanch the violence, it's far more likely that the stabilization of the security situation in Iraq was accompanied by a decrease in basically all types of violent incidents, including IEDs. After all, the Post article cited above -- and the military officials quoted therein -- emphasizes the fact that IEDs don't need to be built from bits off the Radio Shack shelves or Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP) from the IRGC.
Political considerations made the adoption of a vehicle like the MRAP an inevitability. MRAPs have also saved a whole bunch of lives, so I don't mean to disparage their utility. But once the current conflicts are done, we're going to be left with a fleet of heavy, highly-armored vehicles well suited for buttoned-up patrolling on hardened roads in urban areas -- hardly the optimal system for the sort of conflicts we're likely to be engaged in over the coming decades. We can unload a few on the Iraqis and the Afghans, sure, but the program is an expensive one and has entailed some trade-offs.
So what's the point? I guess I'd say that we're learning that high technology might not be the answer to the IED problem. While a country like the U.S. certainly doesn't want to cede its technological advantage and should bring to bear whatever scientific and industrial capabilities may help to mitigate casualties and increase operational effectiveness, the conclusion I've drawn from Gunslinger and other combat soldiers and Marines is that the best counter-IED system is the Mk 1, Mod 1 eyeball. We can talk about network analysis and all the things the intel folks are doing to target construction and emplacement networks (or maybe we can't: I have no idea how that stuff works, and the details are mostly classified), too, but I think the conclusion here -- if we hadn't already drawn it -- is that there's not going to be a push-button answer to protecting our troops from IEDs.
Booby traps, mines, and hidden bombs will always be a cheap, unsophisticated, and effective countermeasure against foot patrol-intensive operations, and counterinsurgencies are very often going to be dependent on that sort of method of operation. I'm not saying we ought to give up looking for the magic bullet, but maybe there's a better way to think about how we spend our money and allocate our other resources to this mission.