No other weapon has become more synonymous with modern asymmetrical warfare and driven the technologies, tactics and procedures associated with force protection than improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Once denigrated by the militarily superior as mere tactical nuisances, these cheap, readily available and brutally effective threats have proven strategic game-changers in multiple conflicts in recent decades.
From the deadly truck bombings that prompted the US and France to withdraw from Lebanon in 1984 to similar threats that compelled Israel, in 2000, to evacuate its 18-year south Lebanon security zone, IEDs have punched well above their weight class in influencing political outcomes.
And all that was before US-led coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than half of those killed or wounded in combat were victims of IED attacks.
Whether buried in the ground, rigged in buildings, loaded into vehicles or borne by suicide bombers, the IED threat has earned the respect of defense planners worldwide and has driven a thriving and innovative industry in dedicated sensors, jammers, vehicles and robotics.
In the past decade alone, the Pentagon has invested upward of $19 billion in counter-IED and ordnance disposal gear in addition to nearly $50 billion spent on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs).
And while such spending has tapered with the end of major ground combat operations in Iraq and the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, the need to defeat this proliferating and increasingly sophisticated weapon of choice for terrorists and insurgents is here to stay.
This article is part of a larger Defense News 30-year anniversary project, showcasing the people, programs and innovations from the last three decades that most shaped the global security arena. Go to defensenews.com/30th to see all of our coverage.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.