Countering the IED Threat

Lance Cpl. Vernon K. Akina, a food service specialist with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, marks a notional improvised explosive device while Lance Cpl. Nicholas A. Weissgerber, a compact metal detector instructor with 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, watches during IED lane training at Camp Dwyer, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 24. Akina located the notional IED with a compact metal detector during the practical application portion of reception staging, onward movement and integration training and integration training.

The article is a contribution by Dr. Crystal Sherline and Kayla Matola. Please see in the end of the article for full bios. 


Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were initially developed by the British Army in response to the Irish Republican Party in the early 1900s.[1] Since their inception, IEDs have become widely utilized because they are easily fabricated using household items and/or chemicals, and they produce massive casualty and injury rates. IEDs are the weapon of choice for many terrorism groups, including Al-Qaeda, ISIL/ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) formed the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to defeat IEDs through three lines of operation, including surveillance, defense technologies and training.[2] Despite more than $19 billion in funding to eliminate IEDs, they remain the leading cause of casualties for U.S. and coalition troops. In March 2015, the U.S. Secretary of Defense announced the dismantling of JIEDDO, stating a goal of improving oversight and accountability. JIEDDO will be reconstructed under the control of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.[3] The reconstruction will enable more effective development and fielding of Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) training capabilities and mitigate the risk of inefficiency.[4]

Detection of IEDs

Figure 1: A persistent surveillance system launches from Forward Operating Base Khilegay, Afghanistan. U.S. Navy Photo
Figure 1: A persistent surveillance system launches from Forward Operating Base Khilegay, Afghanistan. U.S. Navy Photo

Advanced C-IED detection technologies have emerged since the inception of JIEDDO. The Task Force Falcon Strike drones are targeting bomb-planters, and Task Force ODIN drones continue to survey IED activity in both Afghanistan and Iraq.[5] At present, the Pentagon has more than 100 surveillance blimps in the Middle East.[6] Increased use of drones for intelligence gathering and targeting mandates the improvement of sensor technology. The Army issued a solicitation for several technologies in handheld device IED detection, including ground penetrating radar, electromagnetic induction (EMI), wire detection and detection sensor tracking.[7] The Israeli military developed sensors that detect both surface and underground mines, IED and roadside bombs. Counter IED and Mine Suite (CIMS) was designed to protect route clearance and lead combat manoeuver forces.[8] The United States also uses Laser IED detection and microwave-based explosive caches detection, as well as C-IED reconnaissance planes (drones) and volumetric detection.[9]


Technological approaches to defeating IEDs are still in demand; however, many current technologies have the ability to provide countermeasures towards more sophisticated IEDs. Unmanned, lightweight military ground vehicles, such as TALON, are developed to protect warfighters against threats due to IED detection and

reconnaissance capabilities. These robots can be equipped with detection sensors and other instruments to locate and disarm explosive devices. Additionally, robots are utilized by several military forces including

Figure 2: The TALON Robot demonstrates its ability to destroy an IED firing unit without subjecting a soldier to the danger of an explosion. U.S. Army Photo.
Figure 2: The TALON Robot demonstrates its ability to destroy an IED firing unit without subjecting a soldier to the danger of an explosion. U.S. Army Photo.

the United States, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, the Czech Republic, Poland and Australia.[10] IEDs can be disabled from remote locations by use of jammers. This electronic countermeasure is able to render IED radio frequency signals inoperable, providing protection for convoys and military and civilian personnel. Other forms of jammers can completely neutralize IEDs through use of lasers, which detonate the explosive from a distance. C-IED armored/mine-resistant vehicles also provide the military with resilient capabilities for IED blasts. The Armored D9R Dozer of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is one example of a vehicle that supplies maximum protection by utilizing 62 tons of ballistic armor. The primary function of these vehicles is route clearance in addition to detonating IEDs and other explosives.[11]

Future Implications for Countering IEDs

Due to resource availability and ease of device construction, IEDs will continue to be the weapon of choice for terrorists, insurgents and other criminals. The ubiquitous nature and lethal effect of IEDs directly threatens deployed forces’ freedom of maneuver and the ability of indigenous governments to provide for the safety and security of their populations.[12] The adversary will continue to make enhancements to IEDs, which can include using graphite instead of metal blades, more reliance on blast effects and the use of non-metallic explosives. This will drive future improvements for countering and protecting against IEDs in addition to eliminating it as a weapon of strategic influence.

Researchers at Boeing filed for a patent to create a shockwave damping system to protect against explosions and IED blasts. Vehicles, able to detect an explosion before the shock wave hits, would generate an arc of heated air – changing the speed at which the shock waves travel.[13] While most developing countermeasures are classified, enhancements similar to this will be advantageous toward the warfighter for C-IED solutions.

Figure 3: An Armored D9R Dozer operating near the Gaza Border. Israel Defense Forces Photo.
Figure 3: An Armored D9R Dozer operating near the Gaza Border. Israel Defense Forces Photo.

Operational installation configuration is a priority initiative for future C-IED technology. Exelis Inc. is testing the EGON System, which has benefits of tailoring to mission-specific requirements when addressing emerging remote controlled IED devices.[14]  Flexibility remains imperative in developing future C-IED technology to address future electronic warfare missions and requirements.

Defeating this weapon remains an unceasing effort, creating the need to employ the latest technological advances, in addition to leveraging the research and development (R&D) community in order to detect, prevent, protect and mitigate the consequences of IEDs and to defeat the adversary’s network. Collaborative development between government agencies, defense industries, research laboratories and academia will aid future R&D in establishing new technologies, systems and tactics in order to combat this adaptive threat. This goal will promote new C-IED solutions towards safeguarding the military, citizens and other international partners.


[1] Special Report—C-IED—Learning from History.

[2] About JIEDDO.; Pentagon’s New Role for JIEDDO Counter-IED Agency. 

[3] Defense Department Approves JIEDDO Reorganization.

[4] The Legacy of JIEDDO, the Disappearing Pentagon Organization that Fought Roadside Bombs.

[5] Using Drones to Counter IEDs.

[6] IED Casualties UP Despite Increased Vigilance.

[7] Can a Handheld Device Detect IEDs?

[8] Israeli Smart Multi-sensor Counters IEDs.

[9] Research and Development of Change Detection System.

[10] TALON Tracked Military Robot, United States of America.

[11] Armoured D9R Dozer, Israel.

[12] Counter-Improvised Explosive Device, Strategic Plan 2012-2016.

[13] Sci-Fi Cloaking Device Could Protect Soldiers from Shock Waves.

[14] EGON – Active/Reactive Counter IED System.

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Crystal Sherline, Ph.D., and Kayla Matola are Analysts within the Scientific & Technical Analysis Team (STAT) at the Homeland Defense & Security Information Analysis Center (HDIAC). HDIAC is a DoD-sponsored organization through the Defense Technical Information Center, which was established to leverage the best expertise from industry, academia and other government agencies to help solve the government’s toughest scientific and technical problems. Crystal Sherline, Ph.D., is the lead of the STAT at HDIAC. She has expertise in methods and measures and overall knowledge of science and analytics. Kayla Matola has expertise in homeland security in addition to critical infrastructure protection.