April 24, 2006:
In Iraq, combat engineers have developed new tactics for clearing roads of IEDs. The new methods are built around IED Hunter patrols. These keep key routes free of IEDs, and are themselves largely immune to any that to go off near the patrol. The key to making this work is training (on how to spot IEDs), special vehicles and tactics for making it more likely that the patrol will get the IED before the IED gets them.
The training is basically what all road warriors in Iraq (or Afghanistan) get. The intel people supply a constant flow of information, including pictures, of the latest IED ideas the enemy is using. Intel also provides roads the IEDs are likely to show up on. To do this, the intel people use mathematical techniques, similar to those used to predict where German submarines would show up during World War II. The enemy tends to get into a pattern, Moreover the enemy IED planting teams are more and more constrained as to where they can go. They could never operate in Kurdish (in the north) or Shia Arab (in the south) areas. But now, many Sunni Arab areas are off limits because the local population has turned against the anti-government groups. With all those cell phones around, all it takes is one local to make a call. This usually leads to the team getting killed or captured. American aircraft are always in the air, and can arrive over any area within minutes, equipped with night vision gear to spot the bad guys, and missiles to kill them. If the terrorists are lucky, a nearby police or army team will come up and take them alive.
Specialized vehicles are what protects the engineers when they get caught by an IED. Leading each patrol is a specialized explosion-proof vehicle. There are several types of these. The Buffalo is a 38 ton vehicle, which is actually a heavily modified Peterbuilt Mac-10 truck. Costing $740,000 each, they have added armor protection to keep out machine-gun bullets. All this protection enables the vehicle to survive mines (or bombs) with up to 45 pounds of explosives. The Buffalo clears mines using a roller that it pushes in front of it, detonating the mines without taking any damage. The Buffalo design is based on concepts first developed in South Africa. This includes a well protected capsule for the crew. Thus if the vehicle does hit a mine, it may loose a wheel, but the crew will be unhurt. This has already happened, and it works. The 27 foot long Buffalo can also detect anti-tank mines, for later clearing. It's sensors can do this with a 90 percent accuracy (it will generate false positives as well). While top speed is 105 kilometers an hour, when detecting or clearing mines, it moves at about five kilometers an hour. The Buffalo has a five man crew.
The Meerkat is an odd looking vehicle that detects landmines on dirt roads, and is designed to not set them off while rolling over them. If the Meerkat does set off a mine, or roadside bomb, it is designed to survive the blast. The key to all this is a blast-deflecting V-shaped hull on an open-framed vehicle. Thus there is little resistance to blast, with the shockwave just blowing past the vehicle. The three ton Meerkat has large, wide tires that exert too little ground pressure to detonate most pressure activated mines. The Meerkat has a metal detector and ground penetrating radar system mounted across it's front, and can scan the road for mines while moving at up to 35 kilometers an hour (about 30 feet per second). The Meerkat marks the location of the mines, and lets mine clearing vehicles behind it take care of the explosive device. The Meerkats used in Iraq have survived several explosions. Normally, the Meerkat has a one man crew, but it can also be operated remotely from a vehicle traveling behind it.
The Husky is a version of Meerkat with a heavier engine. It can do everything Meerkat can do, plus tow the heavy Mine Detonation Trailer. Mine Detonation Trailers (Huskey can pull two of them) are ballasted with rocks or dirt and have huge tires. They are designed to detonate mines by contact and then be easily repaired. A command vehicle controls the convoy, while a support vehicle follows with spare wheel assemblies and the mechanics to install them.
What type of specialized vehicle is used to lead an IED Patrol depends on what is expected. The other vehicles in the patrol are there to protect the specialized vehicle. These usually consist of one or two Cougar armored vehicles, and two or three armored hummers.
The Cougar is also called JERRV (joint explosive ordnance disposal rapid response Vehicles). Basically, JERRV is a 12 ton truck that is hardened to survive bombs and mines. The Cougar can get engineers into combat situations where mines, explosives or any kind of obstacle, have to be cleared. The bulletproof Cougars are built using the same construction techniques pioneered by South African firms that have, over the years, delivered over 14,000 landmine resistant vehicles to the South African armed forces. The South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and has already been used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans. The Cougar comes in two versions. The four wheel one can carry ten passengers, the six wheel one can carry 16. The vehicle uses a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components mines and roadside bombs. The trucks cost about $730,000 each, fully equipped.
The lead vehicle, and one of the others in a typical five vehicle patrol, will have its Warlock jammer on. This prevents wireless devices from detonating an IED. Despite hundreds of Warlocks in use in Iraq, the enemy still uses wireless devices extensively. They have tried to use infrared and wire, to avoid Warlock effects, but this is not always possible. Buried anti-vehicle mines are only useful on dirt roads, and the IED Patrols have vehicles to handle this. Moreover, it takes longer to bury correctly. Laying mines makes the team doing it more vulnerable. Do it wrong and it is easily spotted. The planting teams get paid a bonus if their IED or mine actually harms Coalition troops.
The other vehicles in the patrol are there to provide security for the specialized vehicle. The Cougar goes right behind the specialized vehicle. Close enough to get hit by an explosion, but also close enough to give covering fire if there is an enemy ambush team involved. If the patrol spies an IED, they either call an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team to check it out and destroy it, or handle it themselves. Increasingly, the patrols have their own robot along, and take care of the IED themselves. Sometimes a few seconds of heavy (12.7mm) machine-gun fire will determine if the suspected object is an IED. The remote control robot can also be run up to the object, where it's camera can give the distant (a hundred meters or so) operator a good look at the suspect object. Most robots have a movable arm that can move aside debris that often covers an IED.
The patrols have been very successful, causing the enemy to give up trying to plant IEDs on some routes.