British Armed Forces have had over a decade of experience in dealing with the Taliban’s most effective weapon, the improvised explosive device (IED), ranging from the sniffer dog to sophisticated ground penetrating radar.

The UK Army set up a Counter-IED Task Force to study the Taliban’s methods and develop new tactics and equipment, much of it secret, to find and destroy the bombs before they explode. In addition, infantry soldiers have become increasingly skilled in identifying IEDs, thanks to new training and equipment.

More than 80 per cent of IEDs in Afghanistan are now found and made safe by the C-IED Task Force. In addition, a new family of heavily armoured vehicles mean that soldiers are increasingly likely to survive bomb blasts should they occur. The C-IED Task Force comprises Royal Engineers Search Teams (REST) and Royal Logistics Corps (RLC) Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO) which find and dispose of the devices. An RLC ATO takes up to ten years to train, they are the expert’s experts and consequently in high demand. They rely on hand detection with a mine probe, a two-inch paint brush, a hand-held Vallon Dual Sensor Detector, and a keen eye.

In addition, the C-IED Task Force uses dogs for armed explosive searches, and are often embedded with patrol groups. Most are German Shephards that take from three months to a year to train with their army handlers. They then deploy to Afghanistan for a year where they readily adapt to the high temperatures and desert-like conditions.

The counter-IED force received a boost in 2011 with the deployment of the Talisman Squadron that comprised a mixed fleet of land and air vehicles, with a route proving and clearance capability. This ‘mix’ of vehicles was designed to support convoys, which can consist of more than a hundred vehicles spread over six kilometers, tasked with delivering supplies to troops operating from remote Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and Patrol Bases (PBs).

In September 2009, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded Thales UK a £25 million contract for the Talisman urgent operational requirement (UOR) project.

The Talisman Squadron based at Camp Bastion, is a sub-unit of the Task Force Helmand (TFH) Engineer Regiment and equipped with several heavily armoured vehicles including the Mastiff 2 Protected Patrol Vehicle, the Buffalo Mine Protected Vehicle with a manipulator arm, the Snatch Land Rover unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), a JCB High Mobility Engineer Excavator (HMEE) and the Qinetiq Talon tracked Remote Control Vehicle (RCV), plus the T-Hawk Micro Air Vehicle (MAV).

The six-wheeled Mastiff 2, fitted Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) bar armour cage and ‘V’ shaped hull that deflects an under-body blast away from the vehicle, has also been modified to carry and control the MAV and RCV and their operating crews and are equipped with the Choker C-IED system.

The JCB HMEE, originally developed for use by the US military, is heavily armoured, very manoeuvrable and can attain speeds of up to 88 km/hr on metalled roads. It is fitted with an air-conditioned single-crew cab with roll-over protection. As an integral part of the Talisman Suite the JCB has a positive effect on the local community when repairing damage caused to routes while disposing of explosive devices.

The heavy weight armoured Buffalo has a robotic arm and iron claw fitted with an integral camera and sensory equipment to locate and examine explosives. Its task is to clear identified roadside ordnance and carry out route clearance.

The Snatch Land Rover UGV developed under Project Panama, is equipped with ground penetration radar integrated by Thales UK. The MIRA remote-control technology fitted to the Land Rovers allow it to be driven by remote operators within a convoy and could revert to a manned platform for use inside protected bases.

The Honeywell Aerospace T-Hawk ducted fan unmanned vertical take-off and landing MAV is flown ahead of the Talisman’s ground vehicles to provide a real-time aerial view of the route ahead. Weighing only 10 kg, T-Hawk is a totally man-portable system and can be operated by one person. Fitted with EO and IR imaging sensors, live images are fed back to the operator enabling ‘real time’ images to be interpreted by the operating crew. In Afghanistan the MAS is operated by a non-commissioned Officer (NCO) from 47 Regiment RA attached to the Talisman Squadron.

Prior to a convoy leaving Camp Bastion, the Squadron’s task is to plan the route, deploy its assets to search, detect, mark, plan an avoidance route, or destroy any IED detected and reinstate the route. During the operation it will integrate with ISTAR helicopters, search dog teams, joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) and the US Army’s JV-5 Rugged Vehicle System which is a digitalized Blue Force tracking system.HHHALE

The British Army’s C-IED assets have proved to be crucial to it operations within Task Force Helmand. Linked to the fact that the size of the support convoys are now being reduced, resulting in smaller but more frequent ones, demand for the squadron’s capabilities increase in future and will peak during the drawdown of British forces assigned to ISAF at the end of this year.

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A defence photo-journalist for more than 30 years, and member of the Independent Defence Media Association (IDMA) and the European Security and Defence Press Association (ESDPA). David is the author of 18 defence-related books, and is former IHS Jane’s consultant editor and a regular correspondent for defence publications in the UK, USA, France, Poland, Brazil and Thailand.