Enhancing the force protection and survivability of U.S. soldiers and Marines was the primary focus of the IED 2006 Symposium & Expo earlier this month at the Crown Center in Fayetteville, N.C. More than 600 attendees and 48 exhibitors participated in the mid-June event, produced by Lodestar Group, a defense marketing firm based in Raleigh, N.C. “Our goal was to bring together the innovators who develop and produce counter-IED technologies and equipment with the front-line operators,” said Catherine Vilga, “Our goal was to bring together the innovators who develop and produce counter-IED technologies and equipment with the front-line operators.” Catherine Vilga, president of Lodestar Group president of Lodestar Group. “Based on our attendance statistics as well as exhibitor feedback, we certainly succeeded,” she said Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have caused over 890 U.S. deaths and more than 16,000 total casualties since July 2003, and are considered the greatest current threat to U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. But Expo attendee Detective Leroy E. Morgan Jr. of North Carolina’s Hoke County Sheriff’s Department said that IEDs pose a serious threat to stateside law-enforcement officers as well. “Unfortunately, even little towns like ours are going to need some of this equipment [on display at the Crown Center Expo] in the next five to ten years,” he commented. “We have no reason to believe” that the IEDs “won’t find [their] way over here.” Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kelleher, USMC, and Lieutenant Colonel Randy Powell of the North Carolina Army National Guard, combat-experienced battalion commanders who recently returned from Iraq opened the symposium by providing their joint warfighters’ perspective. They also fielded questions from other symposium attendees, many of whom noted that it was the first time they had actually had a conversation with a company commander about front-line requirements. Kelleher elaborated on the symposium theme – “Breaking the Chain” – by discussing the motivations and operating tactics of the insurgents. He identified the principal steps in the IED attack process as construction, placement, and deployment, and encouraged his audience to concentrate their efforts in the corresponding countermeasure areas: using improved intelligence to prevent the building and assembly of IEDs; developing better sensors to detect emplaced bombs; and enhancing group and individual protection through the production and distribution of better armor and the use of various other adaptive technologies. The Prerequisites for Mission Success Another speaker, Marine Colonel Brian Green of the Department of Defense’s recently-established Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) also provided an IED update briefing that included relevant JIEDDO organizational information as well as a “past, present, future” perspective of the IED threat. He also participated in a later symposium session to discuss the technological challenges that JIEDDO believes must be overcome to ensure mission success in an IED environment. Many exhibitors commented favorably on the marketing opportunities presented by the sizable active-duty military audience participating in the seminars and visiting the Expo exhibitor booths. AMTI demonstrated the company’s remote-controlled robot, which is equipped with a high-resolution camera that can be used to inspect and disable potential explosive devices. Another remotely operated vehicle, developed by NIITEK, featured a modified commercial chassis carrying a mine-search system that uses a front-mounted ground penetrating radar that can “see” several feet into the earth to detect buried explosives. Among the many other products on display were the Force Protection Industry’s armored transport vehicle, the MUV-R, and a never-before-exhibited bomb-resistant guard post provided by Law Enforcement Associates. The second day of the symposium featured panel presentations bringing together speakers from several of the nation’s most highly respected academic and commercial research institutions, including the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the Georgia Tech Research Institute, SRI (formerly Stanford Research Institute), and the MITRE Corporation. A number of industry representatives, from companies both small and large, discussed various emerging technology concepts and recommended ways to negotiate the requirements process more quickly in order to move innovative products from initial concept to front-line users as rapidly as possible. One of the most-discussed presentations was provided by Marvin Leibstone, an internationally respected writer and commentator now serving as editor of Global Security & Trends Journal. After pointing out that the U.S. and allied counter-IED programs have been underfunded for years, Liebstone also noted that the insurgents in Iraq have, in contrast, steadily increased and improved their own IED capabilities and techniques. One important result, he said, has been the growth of a burgeoning anti-war movement in the United States itself. The Expo’s proximity to nearby Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune provided exhibitors and symposium attendees with numerous opportunities to interact directly with the soldiers and Marines who are the end-users of the products and services that were on display. “We seldom hear from the actual boots-on-the-ground about the usefulness or supportability issues with our products,” said exhibitor Henry Turtle of Scanna MSC. “By the time we get feedback from the field, it’s months later, and the word has often filtered through many layers. This conference has been invaluable.”
Robert E. Besal
Rear Admiral Robert E. Besal, USN (Ret.), a former naval aviator, served in a variety of sea and shore assignments around the world during his 30-year career, including duty as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS America. Following his retirement from active duty, he entered the federal government’s Senior Executive Service and served in several senior-level management positions in the Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security. He later became a senior manager in the Northrop Grumman Corporation’s National Security and International Operations, and is currently an executive vice president, overseeing all program development, for Lodestar Group llc and defensetradeshows.com.