Tactical Trucks: To Defeat Bombs, Armored Vehicles Get Rollers and Arms

By Coderre, Michael | National Defense, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Tactical Trucks: To Defeat Bombs, Armored Vehicles Get Rollers and Arms


Coderre, Michael, National Defense


The on-the-ground reality of today's battlefield is starkly unbalanced: a hulking mass of armor on four-wheels can be rendered inoperable from a couple hundred dollars worth of gadgetry, wiring and explosives.

Military officials have recognized that no one combat vehicle platform will neutralize the threat posed by improvised explosive devices. As a result, the Defense Department's Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) was asked to fund, develop, test and field a "counter IED vehicle kit" that can help enhance troop protection.

"We're not in the platform business, but the kit we do provide to the services enhances vehicle protection against IED blast effects," says Army Lt Gen. Thomas Metz, JIEDDO's director.

Industry participants in the project include Syracuse Research Corp., General Dynamics, Pearson Engineering, Fassi, FASCAN International and several other companies.

During the early clays of the insurgency in Iraq, radio-controlled IEDs, bombs triggered from mobile phones and other household wireless equipment, were widespread and lethal threats to combat vehicles. At their highest point, radio-triggered IEDs accounted for nearly 80 percent of all roadside bombs found in theater.

In response, the U.S. military began placing radio-frequency jammers on its combat vehicles to neutralize these attacks. Unfortunately, these early jammer efforts--classified under the umbrella of CREW (Counter Radio-Controlled IED Electronic Warfare) devices--had limited usability and interoperability with other fielded electronics devices.

To date, JIEDDO has delivered more than 37,000 jammers to theater. The majority of these devices are mounted and are present in nearly every convoy operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senior leaders from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have participated in the jammer development initiatives.

Once fielded, JIEDDO and commanders in the field work to get the jammer kits properly installed.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"We work to find space on the vehicle platform, cool the jammer, account for power constraints and ensure interoperability with the vehicle's communications equipment," explains Catherine Norman, who oversees JIEDDO initiative assessments.

Jammer systems, such as the ubiquitous vehicle-mounted "Duke" device, are relatively easy to use. Especially trained electronic warfare officers and field service representatives are deployed in-country to provide technical and operational support.

To maximize the range of vehicle-mounted jammers and to ensure they work on interoperable frequencies, JIEDDO coordinated the development of the "convoy planning tool."

The software package calculates the range provided by jammers in the convoy, and takes into account a number of variables. The system was transitioned from JIEDDO to the Navy in 2008.

As a result of these efforts, radio devices now account for 20 percent of IED triggers--a significant improvement since 2003.

The success of vehicle-mounted jammers, however, was a double-edged sword. While radio-controlled IEDs were neutralized, a disturbingly wide variety of IEDs and associated trigger mechanisms now appear in theater.

One of the most lethal against armored combat vehicles is the victim-operated pressure-plate--also referred to as "underbelly" IED.

A vehicle-mounted roller was developed by JIEDDO in collaboration with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).

The vehicle add-on, called the self-protection adaptive roller kit system (SPARKS), is designed to pre-detonate pressure-triggered bombs and allow the roller to take the brunt of the blast.

More than 300 systems are now active in Iraq and Afghanistan. SPARKS has significantly reduced the effectiveness of individual IED attacks against armored vehicles.

Pearson Engineering, manufacturer of the SPARK system and a long-time mine-roller partner of the Army, worked with JIEDDO and TARDEC to develop a modular, easily repairable design. …

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