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Bomb Squad

Our Oscar Vote

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

I’m sure I’ll get many a “what does this have to do with Defense Tech?” comments from the purists, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I rarely indulge in the Oscar back and forth, usually ignoring the whole spectacle as yet another chance for overindulged, undertalented phonies to reinforce eachother’s deep-seated lack of self-esteem by reminding themselves just how great they are — and making us all feel lucky that we can take a swipe at their self-licking icecream cone once a year.

(My favorite movie, maybe of all time, is Tropic Thunder…go figure)

Well, this year the best picture nominees include three films with gobs of defense tech, two of which I have reviewed for Military​.com.

I’ll start with Avatar.

As you might remember, like everyone else, I loved the 3D effects, but bristled at the portrayal of human military force. The tech in there was mostly Aliens holdover gear, so that didn’t wow me either. After marinating in reviews since mine, I’ve gotten even more bitter about the whole experience, agreeing with critics who think what Cameron did just penned an allegory he thought was blatantly obvious about America’s image overseas. It was Hollywood at it’s most pedestrian.

Hurt Locker is another story entirely.

And I’m reluctant to let loose on this one as well, because I will say that I sat down with writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow in DC before I wrote my review. Mark couldn’t have been nicer, though you could see that the former feature/culture writer was taking right too his new Hollywood halo. But he was earnest and excited about his project and genuinely interested in my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan with EOD units. Kathryn too was gracious, open and poised. My problem stems from their obvious lack of passion for the subject they put to film.

Mark, God bless him, spent about two weeks /with an EOD unit in Baghdad, spun the experience off into a Rolling Stone article, which popped in a Hollywood (where most people in the industry get their war news, I guess) casting around for a reason to show they weren’t ALL anti-war. The movie itself was a bit confusing and included some scenes that just flat out didn’t make sense at all (the sniper duel with the SAS/contractor head hunters?)…

I had already seen the movie when I spoke with Kathryn and Mark (be sure to re-read my REVIEW) so I asked them “if you were screening this movie to an EOD unit, what would you tell them it was about?” A softball, right? Anyone who went through the trouble to put together a movie on a particular subject should at least have some pat answers to questions like that. Long silence from Ms. Bigelow…Mark too, had some problems with the question. Which leads me to think their depth of passion for the subject they worked so hard to portray on film was shallow. It’s like a hardcore video gamer trying to get into the head of a SEAL. There’s no way.

So, in my opinion, those two shouldn’t have even made it to the Oscar process because they’re more reflective of Hollywood’s “we support the troops” guilt complex and antiBush-waronterror-protreehugger leftyism than any cinematic excellence. From a defense tech standpoint, it was great to see EOD guys get their day in the sun and some of the gear and TTPs were accurate — though I’ve never once even seen a full-on bomb suit in the AO.

Now for District 9.

Totally awesome. From both a technical standpoint and a cinematogrphy one, the movie was just amazing. Mean ass South African security contractors (they practically invented the modern soldier of fortune charicature), intersteller spacecraft that don’t get all FTL on us, a story that cut with a clean scalpel instead of a saw blade and casting that made us at once sympathic and uncomfortable (contrast the Distric 9’s off-putting “prawns” with Avatar’s elegant Na’vi). In terms of pure creativity, stellar acting and a gritty, realistic portrayal of an allegoric social conflict, District 9 hands down gets Defense Tech’s vote for best picture.

And the winner is…?

– Christian

Going to the Dogs

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Bet you all didn’t realize I was an expert on everything from the F-22 to Military Working Dogs, huh?

Well, Fox News sniffed me out and threw me a bone this morning on the story of that precocious pooch Sabi– the Aussie EOD dog that went on a 14 month Walkabout in Uruzgan.

They should clearly keep me on a much tighter leash at Military​.com.

– Christian

Airbag Defense

Thursday, November 5th, 2009


I was shocked to see a recent post on our sister site, DoD Buzz, about a new defensive countermeasure to RPGs being developed by Textron. The system, called TRAPS uses an armored air bag to absorb the impact of an RPG, rendering it inert.

According to Greg Grant’s story, the TRAPS uses radar to detect the incoming RPG and deploy the airbag on the zone of the vehicle being targeted.

DT readers might remember my mad scientist friend David Woroner, head of Survival Consultants International, who developed a patent on a multi-layered IED protection system that uses airbags to absorb the blast wave and some of the shrapnel of an IED in an attempt to reduce the blunt force trauma of the bomb’s concussion.

Here’s a video rendering of Dave’s system…


The key to Dave’s airbag protection that differs from Textron’s is that it detects the IED blast light, which arrives at the vehicle well before the blast does and gives the system time to deploy the airbags before the blast reaches the vehicle. I know that Israeli and some US so-called “active protection” systems use radar to detect the object coming towards it, but with Dave’s system, the detection is projectile agnostic since it detects the light of detonation (or launch?) and deploys at the speed of light (with fiber optics).

At the end of the day, it’s great to see that folks are beginning to approach the armor protection dilemma with more than just layers of cold rolled steel. I hope the JLTV developers dial in on this type of protection since it would surely garner advantages in weight and deployability.

– Christian

The Petting Zoo of Death

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Ward and I had an interesting discussion with an engineer with the Joint IED Defeat Organization at this year’s Modern Day Marine expo in Quantico.

She gave us a good rundown of the differences between the kinds of threats found in Afghanistan and those we’ve had to deal with in Iraq. She described the situation to us in front of a display called the “Petting Zoo” that shows representative triggering devices and IED setups (there was even a suicide vest…eek).

Bottom line, Afghanistan ones aren’t evolving as fast as those in Iraq did, but the countermeasures are largely the same but challenged by terrain.

– Christian

Stop Suicide Bombers in their Tracks

Friday, October 10th, 2008

As the female suicide bombing in Diyala the other day demonstrates, the more Iraqi government and security forces take charge and the US takes a back seat to counterinsurgency, the emphasis on offense is going to increasingly shift to defense.

Some folks I met at the Modern Day Marine Expo last week have an interesting system called “Counter Bomber” that uses radar and some wiz bang algorithms to detect if someone is concealing a suicide vest under his clothing.

Here’s a short video that explains how the system works…

Counter Bomber costs about $300K, and that includes a computer and software that gives a no-joke “Marine proof” indication of whether someone’s hiding something or not. A chime sounds if the radar detects a signature (it basically can pick up metallic objects under clothing) and gives a green-for-safe or red-for-threat indicator as the person passes the Counter Bomber’s radar. The system works up to about 150 meters and the designers say it’s best to have a couple arrayed so security officers can get a 360-degree view of what the person might be hiding.

Company reps say there are 12 Counter Bombers fielded to Marines in combat: eight systems are fielded in Iraq, including al Asad air base and the busy entrance to Ramadi on route Michigan, and four are stationed in Afghanistan.

– Christian

US Sells Secret Anti-IED Tech to Iraq

Thursday, April 24th, 2008


The U.S. has taken the unprecedented — and some would say questionable — step of selling some of its most sophisticated counter-IED technology to the Iraqi government, equipping specialized police, military and interior ministry troops with electronic systems designed to detonate roadside bombs and jam triggering signals.

Officials from Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq announced April 20 that its foreign military sales office had sold the Iraqis 411 Lockheed Martin-built “Symphony” counter-IED systems. A few of the Symphony systems are already up and running on Iraqi government vehicles, the command said, with the rest due to be installed by the end of the summer.

“This system will afford the Iraqi security forces long-term, independent counter-IED protection and relieves coalition troops from this responsibility so the latter may perform other tasks,” said Army Lt. Col. Will Flucker, the command’s Symphony program manager, in an April 20 release. “This system is a critical part of security transition from the coalition forces to the government of Iraq and integral to developing [Iraqi security forces] into a long-term partner in the global war on terror.“

But some might see handing over America’s most sophisticated and top secret counter-IED technology to Iraqi ministries, whose loyalty to Baghdad is less than certain, as extremely risky. Electronic jammers like the Symphony have saved American lives in a war where the roadside bomb is the number-one killer, and the possibility that an Iraqi official could hand over the technology to an insurgent or unfriendly government is all too real.

“You have to assume that about the third one that we ship over there is going to go straight out the back door,” said John Pike, director of the Globalsecurity​.org, a Washington-area defense research group. “We have a fundamental dilemma here in trying to indigenize these security forces.”


Blowin’ Your Mind

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008


First of all, let me just say up front: Since my recent return from Iraq, I have officially become a fan of the MRAP.

O.K., I said it. You’ve read plenty of skeptical stories here at DT on the usefulness of the MRAP and the prudence of a “crash” program to buy gobs of them for Iraq. I stand by my principle criticism. But after having spent some time in MRAPs — particularly the RG-33 6x version — I have to admit I feel pretty safe riding in them.

I’ll lay out more of my case in subsequent posts, but suffice it to say in the Humvee I have to get my 6’2″ frame in and out of one like a clown car — folding one leg in and reaching out to fold the next one into the small foot wells. There’s no place to stow a bag and tri-pod or other reporting gear in a Humvee.

Not so the MRAP. Cushy seats, room for multiple coolers, backpacks full of snivel gear and snacks and radios, DVD players and iPod speakers.

I’ll take an MRAP over a Humvee any day.

Now to the point…

One of the cool pieces of gear I noticed when I was tromping around with some EOD folks near Tikrit is this crazy snow blower looking gizmo attached to several of the unit’s MRAPs. The unit commander tells me they’re called “Blow Torch” and what the guys tell me is that they shoot out a blistering stream of air to uncover IEDs, command wire and other detonators attached to a roadside bomb without having to tinker with it by hand or with a robot.

The system was recognized in August 2007 as one of the Army’s “greatest inventions” and so far it’s been deployed to principally Army units in Iraq for about two years.

– Christian

Helmet Sensors Measure Blast Impact

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008


The Army is reporting on a new helmet sensor that might lead to better helmets in the future. Here’s a bit:

The sensors gather data on impacts ranging from a dropped or kicked helmet to a vehicle crash to a nearby weapon firing or explosion, Maj. Schaffer explained. They measure two specific actions: the energy wave generated by the “event,” and the “acceleration” or jolt that follows.

In the short term, data collected through the sensors is expected to help the Army improve the helmets and other protective equipment it provides its soldiers, Maj. Schaffer said.

A longer-term application — one Maj. Schaffer emphasized the medical community isn’t yet ready for — is to use impact data to help diagnose traumatic brain injuries.

“With the number of IEDs that we’re seeing in Iraq and the traumatic brain injury that’s coming out of it, obviously somewhere down the line we are looking at correlating the blast and the injury,” he said. “But in the near term, we are looking at developing a more protective piece of equipment. The advanced combat helmet we have out there is the best in the world, but we are always looking at ways to make our products better, and this is a great way to start.”

Read the entire article here.

– Ward

Boeing’s Laser Truck Update…

Friday, October 19th, 2007


For those of you who were (and still are) skeptical of Boeing’s claim on the 1 Kw laser’s ability to destroy an explosive or IED, here’s more detail I got from them on how it was done.

Target munitions (IEDs, UXO) are destroyed by heating, resulting in a low-yield detonation. In other words, instead of exploding with their intended full force, the target munition “pops” or “fizzles” out, rendering it safe.

The optical system focuses the 1 kW laser into a “few cm diameter” spot at the target range. Within that spot, the average intensity is over 200 W/cm2. That intensity is approximately 20 times the average thermal output of a standard burner element on an electric stovetop. Over seconds or minutes of illumination time, that effect is sufficient to provide the thermal load necessary to detonate the targets used in the demonstration.


The Laser Avenger Zaps Its Target

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Late last month, the folks at Boeing test fired a Humvee-mounted laser that can be used to destroy IEDs and unexploded ordnance.

Boeing says the 1-kilowatt solid state laser took out five targets during a test shoot at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. The laser was mated to an Avenger air defense vehicle, which usually fires Stinger anti-aircraft missile at low flying aircraft.

The company said the Laser Avenger also zapped two stationary UAVs sitting on the ground a long way from proving the system can shoot down airborne drones, but still enough for Boeing to claim the laser could be used for UAVs on the move.

Whether it can blow up flying robots is superfluous at this point. Typical IED disposal in Iraq and Afghanistan is a very high risk proposition, requiring a technician to place charges on the bomb, use a robot to do it or a mechanical arm. I know from experience that one insurgent technique is to allow the EOD personnel to deploy to Buffalo arm on an IED, then detonate it, blowing the complex and vulnerable hydraulic arm off and rendering the vehicle useless.

Boeing wouldnt say how far away the laser works, but even if its a little further than the range of a robot or a Buffalo arm, it could be a better solution than todays options.

Boeing release follows:

The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] has successfully demonstrated that its Avenger-mounted laser system can neutralize the kinds of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance (UXO) that threaten U.S. troops deployed in war zones.

During laser firings Sept. 26–27 at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., the Laser Avenger engaged and destroyed five targets representing IED and UXO threats. Laser Avenger, equipped with a 1-kilowatt solid-state laser, proved its effectiveness at ranges that allowed the system to be operated at safe distances from the target. During the test, the system also took a step toward demonstrating a counter-unmanned aerial vehicle capability by destroying two small unmanned aerial vehicles that were stationary on the ground.