Countering the improvised explosive device
In July 2011, the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan changed from combat to a NATO training mission. Of the 157 Forces members who lost their lives during the past nine years of that combat mission, the main cause of death was related to improvised explosive devices. IEDs are not a new development, nor limited to Afghanistan; however, this is the first time the CF has faced this pervasive and adaptive threat.
What is an IED? What damage can this type of explosive cause? The first images that come to mind are those of such Hollywood productions as The Hurt Locker. Successive explosions, cars blowing up, homemade explosives and kamikazes are shocking images that “stick.” But those images also remind us that our soldiers have seen all that and more, and they live with the after-effects on an ongoing basis.
By definition, an IED is constructed in an improvised fashion, using readily available components, some homemade, others from parts of other explosive devices: old artillery projectiles, mines, fertilizer, fuel and nails. Their simplicity, versatility and availability makes IEDs the weapons most commonly used by insurgents in Afghanistan. And the insurgents have been creative: anything can be used to produce a desired effect, from soft drink cans designed to harm individuals to larger devices positioned to destroy armoured vehicles.
Countering these devices is not simply a matter of detonating them; to be diffused they need to be identified and neutralized.
There are three key “lines of operation” related to the fight against IEDs: attacking the network of those who finance; defeating the actual devices by detecting, neutralizing or avoiding them; and preparing the forces through training, documenting and dissemination of lessons learned. To fully meet the needs of soldiers in theatre, it is also important to anticipate the location of IEDs and learn from past experiences.
In the CF, the Counter Improvised Explosive Device Task Force (C-IED TF) is responsible for these “lines of operation.” Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) works in close collaboration the C-IED TF, DND procurement, requirements and operational organizations to coordinate the development and implementation of new capabilities. If a technology is not available, DRDC has the mandate to develop it. By providing expert advice and leading research and analysis projects supporting the fight against IEDs, DRDC helps ensure that the Forces are technologically prepared and operationally relevant.
Throughout the mission, many researchers from DRDC have been working in the background to provide capabilities for the C-IED fight. The DRDC program includes over 60 projects related in one way or another to countermeasures against explosive devices. Among them, 19 projects are part of the C-IED Technology Demonstration Program (TDP). The purpose of such a program is to contribute to defence modernization by demonstrating the use of technology for defence solutions.
Success for DRDC is, obviously, to create a technology that will be used in the theatre of operations. When a project is considered viable and ready to be implemented, DRDC has succeeded. The ultimate goal of these projects is to save lives. Two projects describe this well.
Dr. Alain Auger, a scientist with the intelligence and information section, and his team have finished developing MUSE (Multi-intelligence Unstructured Sources Exploitation) system. Developed at DRDC Valcartier, this technology is a threat-assessment support system based on state-of-the-art natural language processing and automated reasoning capabilities. The application was developed in collaboration with DMR–Fujitsu Consulting.
Intelligence analysts work with multiple sources of information at a time. For analysts on base at the Kandahar Airfield, it means having to manage information from various sources within the International Security Assistance Force and then make strategic recommendations to their commander – not an easy task.
MUSE can notify analysts when facts of interest become available, and can be used to better exploit information sources in order to analyze them. The system was designed to be generic. Dr. Auger’s team adapted it specifically to meet the needs of the C-IED TF. Areas of interest are identified by the system (e.g., insurgent command and control structure, IED production activities, etc.) to provide analysts with information enabling them to deliver timely information products to the chain of command.
Dr. Auger was deployed as scientific advisor for a period of nine months to support the Joint Task Force Afghanistan Headquarters. This rewarding experience taught him how important DRDC’s involvement is for the CF in theatre, as well as for the development of research programs.
“What we scientists want most is to develop a technology that is directly in line with the needs and realities of our Canadian troops,” Auger explained.
His team has succeeded; MUSE’s capabilities are currently being evaluated by the Counter-IED Operational Analysis Center to determine the transition process of this DRDC technology.
Another initiative, at DRDC Ottawa, has also undergone successful testing in Afghanistan. Sean Stamplecoskie, group leader for modern communications electronic warfare, piloted a project to develop an advanced detection capability against IEDs. ARTEMIS was created in partnership with Rockwell Collins Government Systems Canada to provide real-time situational awareness to convoy commanders and operational intelligence to mission planners.
ARTEMIS is the product of a larger C-IED effort that includes forensic analysis of recovered IEDs. This is crucial for detecting IEDs, and it has given the ARTEMIS team the opportunity to provide an improved product. Several systems have been deployed in the theatre as part of the DRDC TDP. In collaboration with the C-IED TF, Stamplecoskie and his colleague, Larry Ryan, were able to gather data and make the necessary changes on site.
“Being able to participate in a mission like this is the high point in a project. All efforts lead to this. This experience allowed us to adapt ARTEMIS to the conditions in the theatre of operations,” Stamplecoskie said.
The CF have begun discussions to incorporate ARTEMIS in their vehicles—clear evidence of the success of the project and the importance of DRDC support.
Lest we forget
Canada may have completed its combat mission in Afghanistan, but the fight against IEDs is not over. On the contrary, these dangerous devices are likely to become an integral part of the weaponry of the future. We must not forget the lives already lost to these devices. As the Canadian leader in defence science and technology, DRDC scientists have successfully supported the C-IED TF by developing technologies that save lives. But the research is far from over. Projects continue to be initiated at DRDC and scientists are always on the lookout for changes in IED threats.
Marie-Hélène Brisson is a public affairs officer with Defence R&D Canada.