A vehicle smoulders after a suicide bomber rammed his car into a checkpoint in
Iraq. (Pic: Paul McLeary)
Since its inception in 2006, the Pentagon has funneled about $20 billion to its anti-IED shop, the Joint IED Defeat Organization -- known as JIEDDO -- a figure that includes the $3.4 billion the Obama administration is asking Congress to approve in FY 2011, a boost from the $2.2 billion approved in FY 2010. And the organization expects to receive more money in 2010 to support the surge in American forces to Afghanistan.
According to new information posted on the program’s Web site, JIEDDO’s FY 2011 plans identify over 200 projects, including “counter-IED force protection, exploitation of device signatures, counter-IED persistent surveillance, sensor data fusion, and network analysis.” The technologies JIEDDO is throwing into the fight in Afghanistan run the gamut from the “Self-Protection Adaptive Roller Kit (SPARK)”—otherwise known as a roller bolted on the front of a vehicle to pre-detonates pressure-plate IEDs—to the unfortunately-named VADER (Evil Empire references, anyone?) program. The Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar “can detect, track and characterize suspicious enemy actions – mounted and dismounted – in real-time and in high-resolution using the VADER system. The system is a combination of state-of-the-art hardware sensors and exploitation-focused software on both Army and Air Force aerial platforms,” the site says.
Twenty billion, even in today’s environment where increasingly large military outlays have become the rule, is real money. And JIEDDO has had its share of problems in recent years. This past fall in particular was rough on the organization, as then-director Gen. Steven Metz admitted to an incredulous Congress in October that the organization keeps no centralized database on IED information it has collected. Just a month later, the Pentagon launched a new anti-IED task force, led by Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Paxton, tasked with exploring the IED problem and coming up with possible solutions in Afghanistan, essentially duplicating JIEDDO’s profile.
At the time, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told me that this move didn’t signal a vote of no confidence in JIEDDO. “This is more than a JIEDDO problem,” he said. “If it’s just the bombs themselves, that’s one thing, if it’s just the vehicle protection itself, that’s one thing, if it’s just the intelligence, that’s another thing. [Gates] wants to make sure that all of these efforts are integrated and collaborating, and that’s what this is about.”
Despite the fact that it’s working to defeat a threat that has been responsible for more American combat deaths than any other weapon since 2001, JIEDDO hasn’t been made part of the Pentagon’s base budget, and is forced to rely on supplemental funds on a year-to-year basis. This creates problems, particularly when it comes to giving the shop the bureaucratic teeth to compel the services branches to share their own closely-held anti-IED research and development information that they themselves use to justify funding on a year-to-year basis. This isn’t to say that the services don’t play nice with JIEDDO—they do when it benefits them—and the organization played a big role in several big-ticket programs, including upgrading the armor on Stryker vehicles before they deployed to Afghanistan last summer.