Countering Improvised Explosive Devices
Colonel David Eshel Israeli Defence Force
Royal Tank Regiment Journal 771 March 2005
Tanks take a beating in Iraq
By Steven Komarow, USA TODAY
Countering Improvised Explosive Devices
Two years since the lightning victory of US led coalition forces against Saddam Hussein, the anti-US resistance in Iraq today is still growing in its sophistication. Perhaps the most deadly phenomenon that American soldiers are facing is the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). Many hundreds of IEDs have detonated under or near military convoys on Iraqi roads, killing or maiming scores of US and other coalition soldiers.
The IED has transformed combat in Iraq into an ruthless ambush tactic, a nerve-racking game, which places 'peacekeeping' troops on routine patrol in a virtual `highway roulette' with death lurking at every corner of their route.
The IED attacks began shortly after the `official' cessation of hostilities in April 2003, with isolated pockets of Iraqi resistance fighters using crude explosive devices combined with hit-and-run gunfire attacks against lone army vehicles.
Strange as it may sound to the uninitiated, US Central Command directives for Operation Iraqi Freedom ignored warnings, that the military offensive, if successful in occupying Iraqi territory, would soon turn into a protracted guerilla war, in which IEDs, mainly roadside bombs, would dominate the post-war combat zone.
Central Command did not encounter such a threat during the Afghan Campaign, nor did Nato have to deal with similar use of IEDs in Bosnia and Kosovo. According to US commanders in Iraq: "We were briefed on booby traps, like those encountered in Vietnam, but IEDs were hardly mentioned."
Only the Israelis have been waging a relentless anti-IED campaign against such elements, lately with growing success, after painful experiences during the initial stages of the present Palestinian Intifada and before, in South Lebanon. It seems therefore strange, and possibly inexcusable, that the Coalition forces failed to take notice of the vast combat experience that could have become willingly available from its Israeli allies, in order to at least try and reduce the heavy loss of life sustained mainly by US forces from IED and suicide attacks.
The Evolution of IED and Roadside Bomb Tactics
IEDs are the perfect asymmetric weapon for insurgents. They can be prepared from relatively simple, but nevertheless deadly material easily accessible from military or commercial sources. IEDs can be targeted ideally against soft-skinned military vehicles, but the more powerful can cause substantial damage to light armour, and even stall, if not destroy, heavy tanks.
There is a large variety of IEDs available, ranging from crude to highly sophisticated remote-detonated explosive charges, and their tactical use by guerilla and insurgents is limited only to the imagination and professional skill of their master bomb experts. Much of the knowledge can be obtained on the Internet, which gives ready and detailed information to some of the most genuine `devil's kitchen tools' that human intelligence can provide for this grisly trade of death.
US military officials first identified the early attacks on coalition forces in April 2003, when Iraqi insurgents placed land mines inside sandbags in the middle of the convoy routes in central Iraq. When the convoy escorts spotted these, the Fedayeen and other Ba'ath Party loyalists reverted to more cautious tactics - putting the mines on the roadside, attaching blasting caps and detonating these by remote control.
Other methods in the `early' period, included hand grenades, which the Iraqis used cleverly, by pulling out the firing pins, but holding the spoon down with ducting tape to prevent the grenade from detonating. With the grenade secure, insurgents dropped it into a gasoline filled can, which in a few hours dissolved the tape setting off a fiery explosion which would cause much more damage than the grenade itself. To slow down target vehicles, guerillas placed cinder blocks or pieces of metal scrap on the road, causing the escorts to stop and investigate and then attacked the troops.
When Saddam Hussein's sons were killed in a military raid in Mosul last July, the US military expressed hope that this episode would take the steam out of the Iraqi resistance, but it only proved wishful thinking for the insurgents became more determined than ever.
COUNTERING ANTI-ARMOUR IEDs
Typical IED targets are usually covered by physical protection generally relying on conventional armor technologies, consisting of steel/aluminum armour. The more expensive advanced armour kits utilise ceramic (such as Chobam armour) protection, enhancing survival chances against heavier attacks and shaped charges. Lightweight composite armour suits offer protection for soft vehicles against IED, fragmentation and small arms. Since IED charges have low penetration efficiency, one of the most important add-on protections for target vehicles are ballistic liners, made of composite materials. Such liners can also absorb much of the melted metal spall generated when a shaped charge penetrates through the main armour, therefore limiting the internal damage and casualties.
Experienced guerilla attacks try to target the weakest vehicle in the convoy. In a recently unclassified document, these basic tactics were analysed:
An assault on a US convoy usually begins when the first vehicle enters a so-called `kill zone' ambush. The insurgents normally hide in the brush or other cover on both sides of the road and attack without warning with a salvo of RPGs accompanied by heavy AK-47 automatic fire. As the convoy slows down, one or several IEDs are command detonated. Under the ensuing smoke the insurgents usually beat their retreat, mingling with the civilian population nearby.
A fire support team which will attack the target with small arms or RPGs, once the vehicles are stopped, or when the convoy or patrol disintegrate into individual, sometime isolated vehicles. Such teams then try to assault the most vulnerable target, usually an immobilised vehicle, in an attempt to kill, or kidnap the crew.
To counter this, it is imperative to protect the critical mobility elements, allowing rapid reaction dash-out of the danger zone, before the convoy stalls in the fire beaten zone. High priority protection therefore will focus on the engine, running gear, cabin and installation of 'run-flat' tires.
Total protection of vehicles against IED is virtually impossible, due to the illusive nature of the threat. Attempts to overcome this deficiency frequently lead to "overkill" solutions, resulting in creation of super heavy monsters, which by limiting their mobility, became even more vulnerable to heavier fire. The most effective countermeasures against IED are a balanced combination between physical protection and tactical conduct of operation. This becomes extremely difficult during prolonged peacekeeping security and stabilization operations under asymmetric warfare conditions, in which regular forces must quickly-adapt their tactical drill procedures to unfamiliar combat situations. Troops operating in such high-risk environments must be able to improvise their tactics to counter the evolving threats facing them.
A more sophisticated method using IEDs is placing several explosives together in what is called the `daisy chain' system, which began appearing in Iraq late last summer. This method often entails chaining together a number of explosive charges, which are fired by detonation cord, which is an instantanous battery-fired fuse consisting of reinforced cable with a small high-explosive core. A similar method was used by Hezbollah in Lebanon against the IDF recently, when a series of multiple Claymores were chained together, but failed to explode. When bomb disposal experts rushed to the scene with a D-9 armoured bulldozer, Hezbollah destroyed it with an unspecified ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) in a classical IED ambush.
New Technology, Camouflage and Improvisation
US intelligence experts in Iraq have expressed concern over evidence indicating that Iraqi insurgents have been communicating with outside sources through email, telephone and personal visits. A senior intelligence officer at US 3rd Corps Support Command in north Baghdad mentioned that Iraqi sabotage experts were receiving instructions from Chechen rebels and al-Qaeda or former Taliban. Some of the ambush tactics methods used lately are similar to techniques observed in Chechenya and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Even more sophisticated are IEDs which are camouflaged in the most inventive fashion. The IDF has encountered some of these in south Lebanon, years ago, when Hezbollah used foam-coated explosives disguised as roadside rocks. Some of these included shaped-charge stand-off munitions fired with mechanical 'sling-shots'.
A similar method has already appeared in northern Iraq. On February 7 soldiers of the US 22nd Infantry Regiment patrolling the streets in downtown Tikrit suspected a traffic circle curb disguised as IED. Bomb Disposal Squads were called in and discovered six 82mm mortar rounds interconnected with det-cord attached to a blasting cap buried in the median. While disarming the device they followed a hidden wire leading to a nearby building in which rounds of 57mm anti-aircraft ammunition was also made ready to explode.
In another incident, on January 10, in Taji, soldiers of the US 5th Engineer Battalion found IED in a house, containing no less than nine 152mm artillery rounds 'daisy-chained' together, but fortunately managed to disarm them.
A serious attack was thwarted recently at the Tahrir Husseinia mosque in Ba'qubah, when a suspect vehicle packed with 250kg plastic explosives and three 130mm rounds, was discovered, the entire device being connected to a remote-control detonator wired to the vehicles radio antenna.
In a recent media demonstration, US demolition experts pointed to a 152mm howitzer round, which had its detonator unscrewed and replaced with a blasting cap and wires. In order to fire this contraption, all the insurgents had to do was hook the two wires together to cause instant carnage and devastation.
Vulnerability of Heavy Tanks
The worst insurgency attack so far using IED happened on the morning of October 29 last year, near Balad in northern Iraq. This incident involved a US 4th Mechanised Inf. Division M-1A2 SEP (Systems Enhancement Package) version, equipped with the most sophisticated armour protection. It was also the first time that such a heavily armoured vehicle was disabled by a remote-controlled improvised explosive device in Iraq. Through the force of the powerful blast, the 70- ton behemoth rolled over an embankment, the turret fell off, two crew members were killed outright, and two seriously wounded.
The US MOD refused at first to give any information about this incident, and no photographs of the grisly scene were issued. However, individual sources published photos, which indicate the amount of carnage such rather simple devices can cause to such a huge steel Behemoth. Examining the photos indicates that the tank must have been blown up by a powerful multi-layered bomb detonated under its vulnerable hull armour. Experts estimate the weight of explosives surpassed 100kg.
The photos (based on Russian sources) show the separated turret from the hull caused by the huge explosion, which also happened in two of the three previous IDF Merkava (tank) incidents. This rather rapid turret separation could indicate a serious flaw in the turret ring mechanism, which is significant in previous war photos, showing exploded Russian tanks, which have even less turret ring restraints. One interesting point however, is that there was no catastrophic ammunition explosion, probably thanks to the perfect functioning of the turret ammunition blast bulkhead which might have saved the two crewmen from being burned to death inside the hull.
The US commanders in Iraq should not have been surprised by this serious incident.
Only one year before, in February 2002, the first IDF Merkava Mk3 tank had been blown up by a similar device near Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. Here the Hamas affiliated al-Nasser Saladin brigades remote-detonated a buried water boiler, filled with a powerful mix of Czech-made C4 CTP plastic explosive and highly lethal detonating charges, giving the effect of hollow-charge, which exploded precisely under the hull of the passing tank. From the blast the 22 ton turret flipped off killing two of the occupants.
The gunner, sitting in the lower hull under the turret ring survived virtually unhurt, as the protected ammunition containers did not detonate, nor was there a lethal fire from exploding ammunition or ignited fuel, both located behind safe bulkheads in the hull.
The Merkava Mk III tank which was blown up by a powerful Palestinian roadside bomb on February 14 near Netzarim Junction in the Gaza strip, lacked protective base plates, specially designed to enhance the vulnerable bottom of the tank. Such plates have been in use with the IDF since the mid-80s to provide tanks with increased protection against roadside bombs frequently used by Hizbullah guerillas in South Lebanon. The plates, made of special steel several centimetres thick, can be attached in the field to the vehicle's underside or stripped off when operating in low-risk environment to enhance mobility over sandy or marshy ground. The decision, made by local commanders, to discard the add-on armour protection probably cost the IDF the lives of the Merkava crew commander and loader, while the tank driver, who was located right on top of the explosion would not have a survival chance even if the plates were fitted.
Retired general Israel Tal, the "Father of Merkava", said that "no tank in the world could withstand an explosion from such a powerful bomb on its underbelly".
IED Counter-Measures Used in Iraq
Coalition forces in Iraq are relying more and more on sophisticated electronic 'jammers' which are designed to protect them against most of the deadly IEDs. While using some of the advanced high technology developed over the years, even these are not always totally 'fool-proof' against some of those simple devices.
The anti-bomb technology has received considerable boost since the IED started dominating the low intensity warfighting battlefield. Electronic jammers work by preventing remote transmitted signal, aimed to detonate explosive devices from hidden positions overlooking the target area.
One of the most `fashionable' methods was using commercial cell-phones, activating a CP rigged with primers or detonating fuses to the IED. By jamming the device, the detonation is prevented, or at least delayed until the objective passes on. Anti-bomb jammers have been in use by the IDF in Lebanon since the mid-80s and special vehicles, mounting sophisticated sensors have been developed for this effect. Although the insurgents are usually forced to use known frequencies for their remote controls, such as commercial garage door openers, car alarm remote cellular phones etc, new eletronic gadgets have already been designed to overcome this.
To counter such a trend, methods using `barrage jammers' emit signals over a wide range of the frequency spectrum, which will knock cellular phones and other electronic devices 'off the air'. Sophisticated explosive rigged cellphones are also one of the most effcient elements widely used in `targeted killings' by counter terrorist agencies.
A widely publicised demonstration of hi-tech jamming devices occurred last December, when the motorcade of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf helped him to avoid a weekend assassination attempt. As he was passing over a bridge near the capital the jamming equipment in his limousine delayed both a remote control and timing device for about one minute, sufficient to let the president's car to pass the target area. Whether the US army will field sufficient such jamming devices to protect its troops against the growing threat of IEDs remains entirely a matter of finance. Meanwhile Washington authorities have not remained totally ignorant of this threat. Following the high-profile suicide attack on the Baghdad UN headquarters, US government forensic investigators have been active in examining improvised explosives and establishing a 'global bank' of explosives used in various incidents abroad.
COUNTERING ANTI-ARMOUR IEDs
Bomb analysts have collected fragments from hundreds of IEDs detonated in Iraq including car and truck bombs, artillery shells and even concrete blocks. The new forensic intelligence unit called the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) is established at the FBI laboraory in Quantico Va drawing experts from various agencies, including the CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies in the USA and possibly abroad. One of the major leads in establishing a global IED manufacturing network remains in shape of captured al-Qaeda manuals seized in Afghanistan, Iraq and also from other terrorist groups masterminding advanced explosive devices. The new US agency having access to global intelligence information from friendly nations, could become a leading element in fighting the ]ED threat, which has caused nearly 90% of terrorist attacks in recent years.
A new variety of methods is proposed to increase the safety of logistical convoys, including constant airborne surveillance of the convoy route using unmanned aerial vehicles. An American company has developed and tested a new convoy-following mode of operation for its Bat mini-UAV. The concept is based on automatic coordination between the convoy and the UAV, by means of GPS location signal, relayed from the convoy to the UAV, which coordinates its flight with the convoy while automatically aiming its gimbaled camera. The focus point of the camera can be on the vehicle itself or a point of interest at an offset distance. The UAV updates its flight path continuously to keep its sensor aimed at this focus point. The UAV will follow the convoy wherever it goes, without preplanning or manoeuvre restrictions. For example, when the convoy stops, the UAV automatically enters an orbiting mode and keeps its camera fixed on the stopped vehicles. When travelling at speed, the Bat moves into fixed formation but aims its camera at a desired location relative to the convoy. Video from the Bat is received in the convoy vehicles and may also be sent back to a stationary base.
Another new system designated IED Change Detection is being developed by the US Army Communications - Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), to detect IEDs along travel routes using high resolution aerial/overhead imagery: Jt uses day and night sights and is currently mounted on both manned and unmanned aviation systems. The data is sent to a Change Detection Work Station, where a warfighter views day-to-day thermal or TV imagery that is collected by the airborne asset. This system helps an operator to identify and locate "new" environmental changes on a route which could indicate the presence of IEDs or landmines.
The problem remains that as soon as effective counter measures are fielded, the insurgents rapidly change their tactics, using even more sophisticated IEDs. Low level tactical initiative, instant decision training and innovative thinking can save lives in the IED battle, which is here to stay.
Tanks take a beating in Iraq
By Steven Komarow, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's Abrams tank, designed during the Cold War to withstand the fiercest blows from the best Soviet tanks, is getting knocked out at surprising rates by the low-tech bombs and rocket-propelled grenades of Iraqi insurgents. The Abrhams’ heavy amor is up front. However, insurgents sneak up from behind, fire from rooftops above and set off mines below.
In the all-out battles of the 1991 Gulf War, only 18 Abrams tanks were lost and no soldiers in them killed. But since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, with tanks in daily combat against the unexpectedly fierce insurgency, the Army says 80 of the 69-ton behemoths have been damaged so badly they had to be shipped back to the United States. (Related graphic: Upgrading the Abrams tank)
At least five soldiers have been killed inside the tanks when they hit roadside bombs, according to figures from the Army's Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky. At least 10 more have died while riding partially exposed from open hatches. (Related story: Tanks adapted for urban fights they once avoided)
The casualties are the lowest in any Army vehicles, despite how often the Abrams is targeted — about 70% of the more than 1,100 tanks used in Iraq have been struck by enemy fire, mostly with minor damage.
The Army will not discuss details of how tanks have been damaged by insurgents, lest that give tips to the enemy. "We have been very cautious about giving out information," says Jan Finegan, spokeswoman for Army Materiel Command.
Commanders say the damage is not surprising because the Abrams is used so heavily, and insurgents are determined to destroy it.
"It's a thinking enemy, and they know weak points on the tank, where to hit us," says Col. Russ Gold, who commanded an armored brigade in Iraq and now is chief of staff at the Armor Center.
Because it was designed to fight other tanks, the Abrams' heavy armor is up front. In Iraq's cities, however, insurgents sneak up from behind, fire from rooftops above and set off mines below.
A favorite tactic: detonating a roadside bomb in hopes of blowing the tread off the tank. The insurgents follow with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and gunfire aimed at the less-armored areas, especially the vulnerable rear engine compartment.
It's "a dirty, close fight," says an article in Armor, the Army's official magazine of tank warfare, by a group of officers led by Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli of the 1st Cavalry Division.
"Be wary of eliminating or reducing ... heavy armor" as the Army modernizes, the officers warn, arguing it is crucial against insurgents' "crude but effective weapons."
The Army says most of the "lost" tank hulls can be rebuilt and returned to battle someday. Meanwhile, the Army is upgrading the Abrams, including better protection for the tank's engine compartment.