Smoke from the controlled detonation of improvised explosive devices rises behind a U.S. Marine Corps mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle in Afghanistan. (AFP)
WASHINGTON — The head of the US military's counter-IED organization sees the group's mission possibly expanding despite the physical size of the organization declining in the coming year.
In the coming months, Lt. Gen. John Johnson, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), must present his case for institutionalizing the organization, which was borne over the past decade of counterinsurgency-oriented wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
While he does this, Johnson must reduce his staff from about 3,000 — when he entered the job six months ago — to 1,000 by the end of September.
JIEDDO officials are looking at what capabilities need to remain in place over the long term so the organization remains effective and could grow if needed.
"We're at a transition point, we know that," Johnson told a small group of reporters on Tuesday in his Arlington, Va., office near the Pentagon.
"JIEDDO has been very successful helping our military deal with a specific threat," he said. "As we watch what's going on around the world, we don't see this threat diminishing."
The general said there are emerging disruptive technologies that JIEDDO could be useful combating. Some of these include counter-GPS, navigation and communications technologies.
Johnson pointed to the office’s connection to the science-and-technology and research-and-development communities, an acquisition arm that specializes in rapid procurement and a training capability.
The organization frequently works with defense companies and DARPA, the Pentagon's advanced research-and-development agency.
"I think our relationship with industry is going to have to be even better and it's going to have to be driven by something other than money," Johnson said.
"In the past we had more money and more of a need to actually purchase and put kit in the field," he said. "Now we're going to have to clearly articulate the problems as we see it so that industry is not left guessing what the nature of the problem … in order to stimulate whatever investments they want to make on their own."
Johnson believes there will be an increased "requirement or desire" for JIEDDO to work with foreign militaries in the coming years. In addition to the Afghan security forces, the organization works with Pakistan, Colombia, South Korea and a number of other nations.
Anywhere US troops are on the ground overseas they will face a threat from IED, he said.
If JIEDDO's mission expands, it is possible the organization will change its name.
"It would make logical sense for if we changed the nature of the organization there might be a name change," Johnson said.
That said, Johnson noted the JIEDDO "brand" is well known by troops on the battlefield.
Having a robust inventory of technologically advanced equipment is critical in counter-IED operations.
"We always want to be able to identify the IED well before we encounter it," Johnson said.
Soldiers on the battlefield already have sophisticated equipment — such as handheld and vehicle-mounted devices, sensors, test kits — that allows them to identify bombs
"Clearly we would like to be able to do it at a considerable standoff because just the explosive radius of some of these IEDs [and] these vehicle-borne IEDs are significant," Johnson said.
The organization is always looking at how to provide greater detection ranges and better protective equipment, such as body armor that allows greater maneuverability is key. Officials are also interested in airborne sensors that can better identify or track explosive devices.