In mid-2016 the U.S. Department of Defense asked Congress for an additional $20 million to develop countermeasures to the growing Islamic terrorist use of cheap commercial UAVs. The Islamic terrorists, especially ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), have been using these UAVs more frequently in the last few years and the Department of Defense believes ISIL is planning to eventually use these commercial UAVs as flying bombs. The Department of Defense has an organization (JIDO) that has long been working on better ways to detect and deal with non-flying IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and considers bomb equipped UAVs a flying IED.
The Department of Defense points out that since September 11, 2001 two-thirds of the Americans killed in combat were the victims of IEDs in the form of roadside bombs and (much less often) mines. This was a big shift from the American experience in Vietnam, where 14 percent of American deaths were from bombs and mines. While that meant was twice as many Americans were killed by bombs and mines during Vietnam (55,000 dead) compared to Iraq and Afghanistan (6,700 dead). In Iraq and Afghanistan IEDs became the most successful weapon the enemy had against American troops. In response the U.S. formed JIEDDO (Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization), a $25 billion dollar (so far) effort to deal with roadside bombs. Because of the fear that IEDs will continue to be a major threat (because all the other battlefield dangers have been made so much less dangerous) the U.S. is keeping JIEDDO going, although cutting staff and funding by about two-thirds. With that budget cut JIEDDO was also renamed JIDO (Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization). JIDO has been doing some work on spotting and defeating bomb equipped commercial UAVs and wants more money to get results faster. So far Islamic terror groups have not cooperated but there has been electronic chatter among Islamic terrorists about the possibility of armed commercial UAVs.
It was in Iraq that the U.S. first mobilized JIEDDO to deal with IEDs, and even before JIEDDO showed up in 2006 that paid off. New technology (MRAPS, jammers, robots), tactics (predictive analysis and such), equipment (better armor for vehicles and troops) and a lot of determination did the job. Gradually, IEDs became less dangerous. In 2006, it took about five IEDs to cause one coalition casualty (11 percent of them fatal) in Iraq. By 2008 it took nine IEDs per casualty (12 percent of them fatal). The MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle was a major factor as these armored trucks were designed to neutralize the effects of an explosion and they were very effective at that.
The U.S. Army applied the same aggressive approach to IEDs in Afghanistan and the Taliban had a hard time adjusting to it. One of the bolder American tactics is to aggressively fight the bombers for control of key roads. This means that the army engineers are out on heavily mined roads every day in their specially equipped MRAPs, looking for IEDs to clear. It also means UAVs often patrol the road at night, using their night vision cams to spot Taliban teams burying a roadside bomb. This usually ends badly for the Taliban, as the UAV fires a Hellfire missile, or a nearby helicopter gunship comes over to kill the team. Sometimes there is a nearby rapid reaction team, that goes out and kills or, more importantly, captures members of the team. Dead or alive, the Taliban caught in these situations are valuable sources of information. And information is one thing that is being fought over.
U.S. counter-IED tactics concentrate on discovering who is organizing the IED effort, and then going after the key members of that organization. This is done using a combination of powerful computer software, and traditional detective and military intelligence methods. Those same methods have been picking up more discussions about using commercial UAVs and eventually arming them.
JIDO found out that the most effective tactic to reduce the number IEDs used was to take out the leaders and technical specialists (bomb builders). Time and again when that was done the IED effort in the immediate area collapsed. That worked in Iraq, it worked in Afghanistan and worked in Israel. These battles tend not to get covered much in the media, but there were many epic struggles in Iraq, which all ended up in the IED gangs going down. It takes time, but the pressure causes the gangs to spend less time concealing IEDS, and building smaller or less reliable ones. As more key people are lost, the IEDs efforts gets sloppy, and the Taliban losses accelerate.
Going after commercial UAVs is not just to eliminate explosive UAVS but also unarmed UAVs used for reconnaissance by Islamic terrorists. For the moment the Islamic terrorists do not have enough UAVs for anything but reconnaissance. These are often shot down or lost due to equipment failure or operator error. Money is often scarce in Islamic terror groups and there are more urgent priorities (like more guns, bullets and food). But the Department of Defense believes it’s only a matter of time and wants to be ready.