Insurgencies that utilize open source warfare are almost always extremely innovative (see earlier posts on the topic). As a result, big conventional militaries find it very difficult to keep up even when they spend tens of billions and hire thousands of consultants (while, unfortunately, studiously avoiding a study of the method of warfare that creates this innovation gap). With this in mind, here's a new article in Wired magazine on the innovation rates seen in IEDs, and how these innovations are spreading globally as new groups adopt this form of warfare. Here are some choice quotes:
“I can take $600, go into a bazaar, and make a device,” says one senior Jieddo officer. “And I can tie up $1.2 billion to $2 billion of US money by doing it.”
This escalating arms race, pitting kitchen-table bombsmiths against US government technologists, began in the early months of the Iraqi insurgency. The first IEDs were often simple radio-controlled bombs, made from two or three 155-millimeter artillery shells set off by a signal from a cheap household gadget, like a key fob car alarm switch or a wireless doorbell buzzer. US troops, traveling in unarmored Humvees, were defenseless against them until each of the services hastily bought hundreds of radio-frequency jammers — with codenames like Cottonwood, Ironwood, MICE, ICE, Warlock Red, Warlock Green, Jukebox, and Symphony — capable of generating an invisible hemisphere of electromagnetic energy that could drown out those trigger signals. Eventually, Jieddo would oversee the deployment of more than 40,000 jammers in Iraq.
The bombers quickly learned how to circumvent the electronic countermeasures. They used handheld radio-frequency meters and bombs with dummy trial-and-error firing circuits to figure out what part of the spectrum the jammers blotted out and how big the jamming field was. Then they simply switched to new remote controls that used bandwidths beyond the jammers’ range. When US technicians introduced electronic countermeasures to jam low-power radio-control devices like garage door openers and car alarms, insurgents moved to high-power devices, including two-way radios and extended-range cordless phones. Then they moved on to mobile phones in every local cell network, from 1G to 3G. While this race had been run before, it had never taken place at such speed.
At the beginning of this year, US forces in Iraq reported a new version of the passive infrared trigger, nicknamed the Black Cat. It looked exactly like a regular passive infrared sensor, but the motion detector was altered to be triggered instead by radio frequencies. Shielded to prevent it from being set off by household radios and with reduced reception range, the new device is one of the most devious yet. Designed to detect the passing bubble of a coalition jamming system’s powerful radio field, the Black Cat has brought Jieddo full circle: It is an IED that will detonate only when it detects an IED countermeasure.
Late one afternoon in April, Llamas shows me the latest device they’ve been working on, just in from Afghanistan. A neatly made plywood box about 8 inches high and 5 inches square, it has a length of replica detonation cord emerging from the base. Llamas pulls the box open, revealing a layer of soft foam and a wooden plunger attached to the lid. When stepped on or driven over, he says, the foam is compressed and the tip of the plunger, which is saturated with a chemical, descends into a chamber at the bottom of the box. That chamber contains a second substance, and when the two chemicals mix, a pyrotechnic reaction ignites the end of the detonation cord, which leads to an explosive charge. The box is the logical conclusion of years of reverse evolution in insurgent weapons technology. Without a power source, a blasting cap, or a single piece of wire or metal contact, it has no electromagnetic or metallic signature. Linked to a charge mixed up from odorless homemade explosives, packed beneath a dirt road, it would be all but impossible to detect: a Flintstones land mine. “It’s a block of wood, basically,” Llamas says.