Improvised explosive devices — the hand-cobbled roadside bombs that have taken a terrible toll on troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — are a lot like malaria, the Army’s chief scientist said Friday.
You can treat malaria, you can eradicate the conditions in which it occurs, but it’s been around a long time and probably it always will be, Army S&T boss Scott Fish told journalists at the Military Reporters and Editors conference outside Washington. That’s why the Army won’t stop searching for high-tech strategies to prevent, find and disable their use even as the wars wind down, he said.
Fish said a key goal is to try to force insurgents to make larger IEDs, because even though they pack a bigger punch, they’re harder to hide and easier for allied troops to spot and avoid. That means American commanders need to make the smaller IEDs as least effective as possible, so insurgents have no choice but to go for bigger bombs. To do that, the Army wants its vehicles to take damage better, troops’ helmets and armor to protect them better, and understand how to help soldiers recover quicker.
For example, Fish said the Army is studying the way reptiles and abalone develop their natural armor to try to make stronger materials for soldier gear. The future vehicles it wants to buy, including the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Ground Combat Vehicle, are being built from the wheels up with the IED threat in mind. And, Fish said, the Army wants to get to the point where it monitors individual soldiers to see how they respond to explosions.
The Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are collaborating on sensors that soldiers would wear on their uniforms to measure the blasts they absorb if they are caught in an IED, Fish said. That information might follow a soldier for the rest of his life, giving doctors detailed information that could help them prescribe treatment for traumatic brain injuries even years later.
Fish hinted there’s a lot more in the works to help tomorrow’s troops fight IEDs — but said he didn’t want to give many more details for fear of tipping his hand to the bad guys.
— Phil Ewing