DOD's counter-IED arm faces future challenges

The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) now must determine its future in a leaner Defense Department that's winding down some operations.

However, with an IED threat that continues, it’s critical that DOD has counter-IED capabilities as part of its arsenal, according to Navy Cmdr. Jack Downes, JIEDDO integration branch chief.

“JIEDDO is in a unique position…right now it’s exceptionally resourced to combat IEDs, but it’s highly predictable that come 2014, when the armed fighting in Afghanistan and overseas contingency operations funding are cut dramatically, there won’t be a lot left for JIEDDO to help anyone continue to sustain this fight,” Downes said Jan. 26 at the Soldier Technology conference in Arlington, Va.

But JIEDDO still plays an integral part in U.S. combat operations – and still faces major problems that must be dealt with to save the lives of troops.

For one, as operations evolve, developing and meeting requirements is increasingly difficult, Downes said.

“Requirements have become more challenging to define, as the low-hanging fruit is all gone. Five years ago it was easy to say, ‘Give us jammers. Give us armor,’ ” Downes said. “Now we’re out of the straightforward requirements. Now the margin between what the warfighter thinks he wants and what we might be able to get him is pretty wide. There are some pretty big technology challenges out there and we’re trying to narrow the gap.”

With the military drawdown, rapid acquisition has never been more important, he added.

“Four to 24 months is more relevant than ever now, because we don’t see the conflict going beyond the next 24 months. So we have to have everything that’s in our pipeline now either intended to deliver to the current fight, or being a core capability that’s required for an enduring fight,” Downes said.

In addition, cycling forces and many unlinked databases are roadblocks to key information-sharing, according to Downes.

“I don’t personally think that we’ve found the best way to incorporate historic lessons learned into our future training. We’ve seen a lot and we should be making better effort to catalog that and make it user-friendly,” he said. “Anybody in this room can pick up a smart phone and go to Wikipedia and it will tell you everything you could possibly want to know about John Denver. Why can’t we do that to tell you everything you could possibly want to know in the field?”

Still, JIEDDO’s top priorities will continue to include training for counter-IED operations. And that will remain urgent as long as IEDs pose a threat, even if future defense plans don’t specify JIEDDO as the organization that will oversee how DOD meets the threat, Downes noted.

“We have proven time and time again that the best IED detection system out there is a well-trained soldier,” he said. “We’ve proven this capability and whatever it form it takes from here forward needs to exist. And I think [the leadership] recognizes that.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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