Electronic Weapons: The Bubble Just Keeps Rolling Along


December 19, 2009: One reason so many roadside bombs in Afghanistan use pressure plates or wire controlled devices to detonate these weapons, is because American jamming technology has made wireless detonation of the bombs so difficult. The U.S. Department of Defense is working on a third generation of jammers, to make sure the terrorists have to rely on less effective means of detonating their bombs for the foreseeable future.

The most recent innovation in the areas was the JCREW (Joint Counter Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare) 3.1 dismounted (wearable) jammer. These cost about $99,000 each. The wearable JCREW jammers are more useful in Afghanistan, where more of the patrolling is on foot. Three years ago, the U.S. began using wearable JCREW jammers. JCREW is a further development of the first jammer, the Warlock, which appeared in 2003, mounted in vehicles. The jammers have gone through many revisions, to add more frequencies and better software.

 Rolling along in a convoy, with one or more jammers broadcasting, the troops have an electronic "bubble" that made them safe from any wireless IED they had not spotted. It's not uncommon for vehicles to have had an IED go off behind them, the result of the IED detonation crew continuing to send the signal, believing that there might be something wrong with their equipment. In those cases, the patrol often turns around and goes looking for the enemy team. Supply convoys just continue on their way.

 In addition to jammers like JCREW and Warlock, several of the U.S. Air Force and Navy electronic warfare aircraft are able to perform the same functions, but over a wider area. This was often used when American troops were in action against the enemy, shutting down IED detonation over the entire combat area, as U.S. troops moved around seeking out and fighting the enemy.

 One problem with the jamming was that it kills cell phone operation, as well as use of many other remote electronic devices Iraqi civilians in the area might be trying to use. The locals complain to each other, but asking the U.S. troops to shut it off would be futile, so they don't.

 The current JCREW jammer has lots of new features, most of which are secret. Terrorist groups have tried to find ways around the jammer, but have been unsuccessful. Most roadside bombs are now set off via a wire connection between the detonator and a nearby guy pressing a button. This has caused more terrorist casualties, and generally made it more difficult for the bombers. Pressure plate detonation is less popular because the terrorists have no control over when the bob goes off, and when it's a civilian vehicle getting blown up by mistake, the Taliban drop further in the opinion polls.

The big improvement in JCREW is that it is easier to add new frequencies, and the jammer interferes less with other military communications and sensors. JCREW is also lighter. There are always new versions of JCREW being sent out for testing. For example, a hundred or so lightweight JCREW jammers were first sent to Iraq three years ago, for testing. These proved very popular with troops who did a lot of their patrolling on foot. It's become increasingly common for troops to make long movements on foot, to conduct raids or just patrol. The enemy has lookouts who are on the alert for U.S. vehicles, not dismounted American infantry sneaking up on them.




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