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The Evolution of Improvised Explosive Devices

Written by Right Side News

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Whether in the Middle East or Iraq or Africa, Improvised Devices are being studied by insurgents and terrorists. They are examining and embracing the successful use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in Iraq.

Defeating the IED threat requires a comprehensive approach. Insurgents in Iraq have made the IED a central component of their overall 'bleed until bankruptcy' strategy.

According to CENTCOM, in 2004, there were 5,607 IED attacks; in 2005, there was massive increase of 10,953 IED attacks, as insurgents realized the cost effectiveness of this weapon (source). Overall, IEDs have accounted for 873 of the over 1,600 Coalition fatalities in Iraq since the start of the war.
 
This analysis examines how IEDs are constructed and used in Iraq; how the IED fits into the insurgents' overall strategy in Iraq; how the strategy governing the use of IEDs has proliferated to Afghanistan (Country Profile) and other fields of battle; and what the successful use of IEDs in Iraq means for the future national security of the United States (Country Profile). IEDs were first used in Iraq in the fall of 2003 as the insurgency gathered steam.

The devices were smaller and relatively unsophisticated. Early generations of IEDs in Iraq were typically constructed via a single mortar round or 152mm artillery round. Coalition forces soon adapted to these early IEDs by up-armoring their vehicles. However, insurgents responded by developing both more powerful and technically sophisticated devices and a networked web of cells capable of avoiding detection and carrying out attacks. The IED From a technical standpoint, IEDs in Iraq have evolved into devices capable of penetrating a 22-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The increase in destructive power of insurgent IEDs is due in part to technical innovations such as stacking multiple heavy artillery rounds or anti-tank mines together. Additionally, insurgents mastered the construction and use of explosively formed projectiles, which can be constructed with readily available threaded pipe. A steel plate is screwed on to one end of the pipe, which is packed with high explosives, and a metal concave cap, which becomes the projectile upon detonation, seals the other end.

The August 3, 2005 roadside bombing that killed 14 US Marines (Terrorist Incident) demonstrated the destructive power of explosively formed projectiles. The IED Network Technology was not the insurgent's only area of innovation. In an effort to increase efficiency and improve operational security, the Iraq insurgency has organized itself as a series of loosely affiliated groups and operational cells. Many of the IED attack cells are contracted out on an ad-hoc basis to terrorist and insurgent groups operating in Iraq.

Moreover, these IEDs cells are organized in a modular manner: each member of the cell fills an organizational function?fundraising, acquiring components, constructing the bomb, choosing a target, concealing the IED, and detonating the device (source). IED cells may work together as a unit, or an individual specialist may organize an attack on an ad hoc basis. Typically, there are no more than 5-10 members in a single IED cell, and US intelligence estimates that there are approximately 100 IED cells operating within Iraq (source).

The loosely coupled nature of IED cells to insurgent networks and the networked nature of the IED cells themselves reduced their exposure to attack and disruption from Coalition forces. Defeating the IED Threat The insurgents' growing sophistication in both the technology of their devices and the tradecraft used to build and deploy weapons have left the US military with the difficult choice of attempting to defeat the IED itself or the insurgent network responsible for the IED attacks. Both are required. Attacking the individual cells responsible for the construction and detonation of an IED is a temporary, albeit life saving, solution.

Even if an individual IED cell is eliminated, there are other cells left to carry out attacks. Moreover, when Coalition forces develop a successful defense against IEDs, insurgents are able to respond with a low-cost countermeasure that can defeat the newly developed defense. This cycle of innovation typically favors the insurgents, as their innovations are less expensive and developed with greater speed than Coalition forces' defense.

One example of this cycle of defensive and offensive innovation can be seen in the insurgents' innovative use of various triggering devices. In response to the insurgents' use of radio signals to detonate an IED remotely, Coalition forces developed a jammer device, the Warlock, that blocked all radio signals within a set range.

The Warlock system cost millions of dollars to deploy to the field, and it only worked for a short time until insurgents developed infrared and other wire-triggering devices that used no radio signals and circumvented the Warlock's radio-jamming defense. As a result, the low-cost innovation of new triggers invalidated millions of dollars of research and development.

This example helps illustrate how the insurgents' individual tactical innovations fit into their overall strategy of bleeding the Coalition forces' capability and will to fight. IED Proliferation The use of IEDs in Iraq and elsewhere is a threat to US national security. Recent evidence demonstrates that the lessons learned from the successful use of IEDs in Iraq are bleeding out to other theaters of battle, Afghanistan in particular, creating a greater threat to US national security.

Powerful IED designs proliferate rapidly from one theater to another in part through the Internet. According to Lt. Col Shawn Weed, an Army intelligence officer, "the Internet has changed the nature of warfare. Someone can learn how to build a new bomb, plug the plans into the Internet and share the technology very quickly." IEDs are increasingly used in Afghanistan, as Taliban insurgents (Group Profile) adopt the proven tools and tactics of Iraq's insurgents. Examples of the Taliban's increasingly sophisticated use of IEDs can be found in the April 9, 2006 attack against the Afghani military (Terrorist Incident).

Bomb recipes, generated from the Iraqi battlefront, will continue to proliferate across the Internet to other insurgent and terrorist groups around the world. Insurgents or terrorists in other battlefields will not always use the artillery shell IED design favored in Iraq; rather, homegrown cells adopt a design suitable to their local conditions and appropriate to their desired type of attack. For example, the London bombers constructed a bomb, based in part on a recipe from the Internet (source), and concealed the weapon in a backpack to avoid suspicion.

As the disrupted plot against the PATH transit system in New York (Intel Report) and the successful Mumbai rail bombings (Intel Report) have demonstrated, terrorist cells continue to demonstrate preference for the cheap, easy, yet potentially spectacular, IED attack. By Ned Moran, TRC Staff
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