WASHINGTON — Senior US defense officials are preparing to determine the future of a powerful, high-profile Pentagon organization that has spent nearly a decade developing equipment, tactics and training to defeat roadside bombs.
Last month, House lawmakers included a provision in their version of the 2014 defense authorization bill that requires the Defense Department to provide a report on the future of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).
At a time when the Pentagon is facing hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts over the next decade, senior military leadership is said to be considering three options for restructuring JIEDDO: eliminate the organization; break up its duties among the military services through a process called disaggregation; or restructure JIEDDO into a smaller office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
In March 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for the elimination of the JIEDDO director billet, a position held by four different three-star generals since 2008. The elimination would be “based upon deployment of forces and IED threat,” Gates wrote in a memo at the time.
But supporters of JIEDDO said the counter-IED mission must be preserved through the Quadrennial Defense Review, which lays out future US military strategy and is due to Congress early next year. These supporters point to recent intelligence assessments that say terrorist networks will continue to use IEDs against the United States and its allies.
“We have to realize that the IED is part of our operational environment now,” said retired Army Command Sgt. Maj.Todd Burnett, a former senior enlisted adviser to JIEDDO.
A May Center for Naval Analyses assessment of the “post-Afghanistan IED threat” found the IED will likely persist in the coming years.
With that in mind, JIEDDO supporters argue that the third option — creating a smaller office within OSD — would be best.
“DoD needs a small, scalable, agile, OSD-level organization with special authorities, ramp-up ability and flexible funding to implement and synchronize ... enduring counter-IED capabilities,” a defense official said.
Since its birth in 2006, JIEDDO has spent about $20 billion, according to budget documents. Spending peaked near $4 billion in 2008, around the time of the surge in Iraq. Since then, spending has declined to about $2 billion. A scaled-down counter-IED organization would likely cost about one-fourth of that, a defense official said.
Officials close to JIEDDO said the office has already cut costs, and they point to the cancellation this year of a number of underperforming programs.
These cancellations have allowed the office to reinvest more than $289 million in training and to purchase reconnaissance robots and bomb-detection equipment. The JIEDDO office is expected to cut 22 percent of its staff by September, a reduction expected to save $163 million.
The majority of the money spent by JIEDDO has gone toward what it calls defeating the device, or purchasing systems and equipment to detect or protect soldiers from IEDs. This includes purchases of robots, electronic jammers, vehicles and even aerostats.
The equipment includes both US and foreign-made systems, such as more than 800 British-built Self-Protection Adaptive Roller Kits, giant rollers that can be mounted on vehicles to detect roadside bombs
The rest of the funding has gone toward intelligence used to go after IED networks and training equipment.
The Options on the Table
In January, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, a panel that vets military requirements, said the Pentagon must maintain counter-IED capabilities, including the ability to identify threat networks that employ or facilitate IEDs, detect bombs and components, prevent or neutralize bombs, mitigate explosive device efforts, distribute bomb-related data across the the community of interest and train personnel in counter-IED capabilities.
Joe Gould contributed to this report.