Joint Forces Command’s General James Mattis introduced him with the warning that “IEDs are coming to a city near you,” and Lt. Gen Michael Oates, head of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Organization followed up with a sharp-elbowed speech that called much of the coalition’s anti-IED effort into question.
Speaking before a packed house at the Joint Warfighting conference in Virginia Beach, Va. on Tuesday morning, Oates bemoaned problems with analyzing and sharing intelligence in a timely manner, both in the U.S. military, and among coalition allies in Afghanistan.
“We disable ourselves by an inability to share information,” he said, adding that “I absolutely believe that we’ve got to [find] a way ahead immediately to improve information fusion,” and to develop databases for tactical commanders. “There is no shortage of data, but there is a dearth of analysis … and it has got to be provided to our coalition partners freely so that they can enable their formations.” Oates said that crucial to this effort is the creation of “mobile databases [that] provide real-time effective information for tactical commanders.”
Given that the IED is here to stay, Oates also expressed frustration that effective training methods for the armed forces to operate in this environment is lacking. He warned that “we will see IEDs or their derivatives find their way into civilized society in greater numbers, in the future" and that “they'll be used by criminal enterprises. They'll be used by hybrid threats that seek partners – either in the drug trafficking enterprise or other commercial business – to destabilize societies. We will certainly see them in the combat sphere for years to come, and we're going to see the technology of these devices become more difficult to defeat.”
That said, Oates is dissatisfied—to say the least—with the lack of simulation technologies to train troops to face this threat. “I am very underwhelmed by the level of effort in simulations for the current fight,” he said, calling the level of IED simulation “absolutely insignificant.” His goal is to “integrate the IED into everything we do in training” since the pervasiveness of the threat is unlikely to dissipate.
Oates also slammed information operations ongoing in combat zones as too restrictive to truly penetrate bombmaking cells. “It is amazing to me that tactical commanders overseas have the legal authority to shoot on sight an enemy who is declared hostile, but they’re not allowed to send them an email. Our ability to leverage information operations to influence these networks is severely curtailed at the tactical level,” he said, adding that non-lethal methods for defeating the networks are just as important as lethal methods.