JIEDDO director addresses explosives symposium
July 31, 2014
By David Small
WASHINGTON (Joint IED Defeat Organization, July 31, 2014) -- Lt. Gen. John. D. Johnson kicked off industry's second annual Explosives Ordnance Disposal, Improvised Explosive Device and Countermine Symposium here July 22, focusing his discussion on the lessons learned standing up capabilities to counter IEDs while fighting an adaptive, asymmetric enemy.
"There's some very important lessons in how we stood this capability up as we look to the future," said Johnson, who has directed the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization since July 2013.
While supporting current operations, he is responsible also for outlining recommendations for maintaining future counter-IED capabilities for the Department of Defense, being responsive to fiscal realities and the changing mission in Afghanistan.
"When we got into Iraq and Afghanistan, we weren't prepared for that kind of fight," he said. This unpreparedness for IEDs caused the death of a hundred service members a year from 2004 to 2007.
Despite some early successes, the services couldn't turn fast enough based on the speed the enemy was adapting, he said.
"The enemy adapts to any measures we take. We have to be constantly on our toes to the changes we see these threat networks making," the general said.
In response, JIEDDO was formed, money was put toward the problem, there was attention at the department level and JIEDDO was given the acquisition authorities necessary to rapidly provide solutions to the warfighters.
At that point, a confluence of actions, including JIEDDO's formation, caused the casualty and equipment losses to "fall off a cliff," he said, indicating these authorities need to remain available so the department can continue to respond to the persistent IED threat, and rapidly react to any future threat.
The second lesson Johnson highlighted is the direct link between acquiring new pieces of equipment or analytical tools, and training people to use them.
"There was a plethora of equipment sitting on shelves, repurposed and put into the hands of troops in the field," he said. "We had to adopt and improve those capabilities, but just providing new kit wasn't enough. We had to train the troops and organizations to use them. Being given new kit while in the fight may not fit within a Soldier's existing understanding of how to fight."
JIEDDO introduced training at home stations to familiarize people with equipment prior to deployment. Johnson recognized much of today's counter-IED training is conducted by the services, but JIEDDO's training niche remains associated with introducing new pieces of counter-IED tools.
The last lesson he highlighted regards the need to have an offensive element against threat networks that finance, facilitate and employ IEDs, saying, "It takes a network to defeat a network."
JIEDDO initially formed its offensive arm by fusing operational and intelligence data into something the commander on the ground could use, empowering tactical decision making with national level analysis and condition setting.
"When all is said and done, JIEDDO's business model is to have embedded intel analysts, operations integrators, [operations research/systems analyst] right there on the ground with the tactical commander who can reach back to national level analytical and acquisition capabilities," he said. "Flat reachback from the commander in the field to national level analytical and acquisition authority is important to enable us to package a tailored response specifically for that commander and the problem he's facing ... and then look elsewhere to see who else may benefit."
This action gives JIEDDO the opportunity to anticipate the threat, spread the information and get training set up at home station specific to a particular deployment, he said.
But this approach wasn't making use of all available tools to combat the IED problem at the strategic level. Johnson lauded the enduring relationships JIEDDO has with academia, industry, foreign militaries and other agencies of the U.S. government.
Outlining some of the relationships with the State, Treasury and Commerce departments, Johnson highlighted JIEDDO's ability to spend up to $15 million for other government agencies to use their authorities to curb IED precursors such as fertilizer, chemicals and blasting caps from migrating out of legitimate industry supply chains into the hands of nefarious actors.
As it supports all combatant commanders in their IED fights, not just U.S. Central Command, JIEDDO recorded more than 27,000 IED incidents around the world in the past 12 months and more than 56,000 casualties from those incidents, only a portion of which were in Afghanistan, he said.
"IEDs are not new," he said. "Unfortunately for the world, their use is growing."
Given the IED incidents are occurring around the globe and the transnational nature of threat networks, terrorists and crime organizations that use the IED as a weapon of choice, Johnson said it is likely the IED will be part of any future battlefield, whether it be in Africa, the Pacific or elsewhere -- and may even be used by state actors who employ IEDs.
"One of the keys to fighting this networked, global enemy is the ability to know who the enemy is," he said. "We have put a huge emphasis on forensics. Soldiers treat an IED site like a crime scene. We figure out a bomb maker's signature and track how they operate and share knowhow around the globe."
In addition to forensics being a game changer, he used it to exemplify the importance of relationships. Much of the forensic exploitation of IEDs has occurred at the FBI's Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center with 38 countries providing IED components to TEDAC for analysis.
The general underlined the need to take cues from JIEDDO's history as the organization looks toward its future.
"IEDs are a manifestation of a bigger problem -- disruptive technology," he said. "The enemy has figured out how to arrest our technological advantage on a localized or temporal basis. Their combination of local attacks gives them potential for strategic advantage."
His primary concern moving forward is "to have our scouts out" to figure out the next threat.
"I don't want us to be so focused on the IEDs that we miss the next 'IED,'" he said. "The enemy is creative and adaptive, and we have to be equally so."
Johnson said he is taking these lessons learned from JIEDDO's formation and applying them to understand what the essential counter-IED capabilities the nation needs between now and the next inevitable fight. He will present his concept for a restructured organization to gap that period, necessary resources and a revitalized focus to Defense Department leaders later this year.
"We must make some tough choices about what we keep, what we idle and what we set aside," he said. "In the short term, we have to anticipate future threats and do our best to gear up for it. And if we can't anticipate the threat, we have to be able to react rapidly."
The Defense Strategies Institute hosted the symposium.
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