Military Researchers Launch War against Hidden Explosives

Article excerpt

At least 75 Navy scientists have been assigned to work full-time on technologies to detect and neutralize the improvised explosives devices that have killed and maimed hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The Office of Naval Research also shifted $27 million of its $1.76 billion annual budget to these programs, according to Rear Adm. Jay M. Cohen, chief of naval research.

ONR's work is one piece of a larger Defense Department effort, called the IED Task Force, a $60-million a year operation created to find technologies in the government and commercial sectors. Scientists at ONR focus on basic research, rather than actual products, Cohen explains during a presentation to the Navy League.

The ultimate goal, he says, is to replicate the mechanics and physics of a dog's nose. It will take a machine with an advanced sense of smell to detect IEDs at standoff range and at a rapid pace. But Cohen says that technology is not yet available. He does not expect any major breakthroughs for at least five to 10 years.

Of the $27 million, $15 million is for in-house research, while $12 million will be awarded in contracts to universities, laboratories and private firms.

Under a Defense Department "small business innovation research" program, ONR awarded 39 contracts to companies that submitted promising technologies to counter IEDs.

The proposals are being evaluated and some will be selected to continue to the next phase, he says. Examples include a sensor to locate wire-detonated explosives, a satellite-based detector and an X-ray device that can see through cars.

Cohen's deputy, Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, cautions that not every technology works as advertised.

"We have to be careful that we know what the products can do, versus what's in Powerpoint slides," he says.

Waldhauser, who also serves as the commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, gets loads of e-mails and phone calls from Marines in Iraq who help him get the "ground truth" on what works and what doesn't.

One of the most effective ways to combat IEDs is to find them and destroy them before the insurgents have a chance to use them, Waldhauser says. …