FORT BELVOIR, Va. — As the temporary Pentagon organization created nearly 10 years ago to combat American troops being killed and wounded by roadside bombs transitions into a smaller, permanent agency, the improvised explosive device problem has only proliferated and grown white-hot as forces continue to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
So while many thought the role of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) would come to an end as the wars were due to wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newly- named Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA) is busier than ever, working to find solutions to protect soldiers and civilians against more and more creatively made and creatively used bombs.
JIDA showcased some of its capabilitiesAt Fort Belvoir, Virginia, on Tuesday, JIDA showcased some of its capabilities developed over the last 10 years to combat insurgents' growing ability to build and conceal IEDs as well as capabilities to track bomb-making networks.
Tents were pitched across the expanse of a large field and sensor towers punctuated the landscape. On one end, a small command post showed a clear picture in real time of the entire area, tracking people and even a large flock of birds that settled on the ground near a cluster of sensors during the event.
On the other end, instructors were showing visitors the evolution of JIDA's mine detectors and how to sweep for possible buried explosives. Parked out in the field were JIDA's Husky mine-detecting vehicle and a mine-neutralizing vehicle called the Tarantula (mainly due to its eight emitors sending 30,000 volts of electrostatic charges through the ground at the front of the vehicle).
"How the unit has transformed itself has been pretty innovative," Lt. Gen. Michael Shields, JIDA's new director, told a group of reporters sitting in a tent on the edge of the field.
JIDA has grown smaller, he said. JIEDDO, at its height, had a $4 billion budget and employed roughly 3,000 people employed with the organization. It now has about 1,000 people employed employees and about $500 million per year to spend, although there are mechanisms in place to obtain additional funding to develop capabilities for certain urgent requirements, Shields explained.
The goals for the agency — attack the network, defeat the device and train the force — have not changed, and JIDA still has a "laser focus" on the IED threat and also on rapid acquisition of solutions to combat such a threat. Shields said his goal is to deliver capabilities in under less than two years after a requirement is defined.
The agency is having to learn to do more with less in a burgeoning age of prolific improvised explosive device IED use as the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, often called ISIL, in Iraq continues to accelerate and while Afghanistan continues to see its share of violence.
Shields has been in the job about two months but has already traveled to both Iraq and Afghanistan and witnessed first hand what forces are up against.
"In Afghanistan we still have forces that are in harm's way and that are facing the threat of IEDs," Shields said.
In Iraq, Shields was able to see some of the counter-IED training offor Iraqi soldiers being carried out there and learn first-hand what the Iraqi forces are encountering in the fightthere.
"This is not the fight that we faced when I was a brigade commander in 2005 and 2006 in Iraq," Shields said. "This is very organized. [ISIL] has an industrial capacity to produce IEDs, so it's not a terrorist organization that is using them to achieve a terrorist effect,; they are using them in vast quantities to help them isolate and shape the battlespace almost in phased types of operations. They are covering them with observation and fires."
ISIL's use of IEDs has caused the Iraqis and coalition partners on the ground in Iraq to rethink its their way of combatting the threat. "It's less about these [explosive ordnance disposal] teams and going forth and dealing with a device, it's about combined arms maneuver and combined arms breaching," Shields said.
"Imagine belts of IEDs," he said, "used to shape the battlespace, using suicide vehicle-born improvised explosive devices as their precision guided munition ... and an incredible capacity to produce many of them, — and by many I mean 10, 20, 30, in an individual attack."
ISIL is employing technology, while not overly sophisticated, in innovative ways such as using crush switches in buildings, using anti-tamper, anti-lift, and motion sensor triggers, according to Shields said.
JIDA is supporting Iraq and Afghan forces in determining what is needed to combat the threats encountered in both theaters of operations. The agency has teams deployed forward to see what is needed on the ground first hand. The teams submit requests for support back to headquarters for such assistance like such as analytical products, Shields explainedsaid.
HeShields noted that JIDA, while small now, is designed to be scalable depending on the need. "There may be a time where we may have to increase capacity depending on how this fight progresses and so forth, but from a technology perspective," he said. "I haven't seen an appreciable spike in requirements."
Yet, Shields added, from an analytical perspective, Shields said, JIDA's ability to provide virtual modeling and simulation to support forces at forward operating bases has been in high demand in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Our soldiers are still in harm's way. There's been no peace dividend," Shields said.