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Air Force team works to lower IED threat.

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- An Electronic Systems Center office at Hanscom AFB is working to minimize the threat of suicide bombings at the entry points of controlled access zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The team has been working since late September to rapidly evaluate technologies designed to detect what are known as person-borne improvised explosive devices, or PBIEDs. The team, which serves as the Air Force Counter-IED Office, brought four contractors to Hanscom during the last week of September and five more during the week of Oct. 20 to 24.

Each one was given a four-hour block to run its technologies through a precise testing protocol that required them to set up some distance away from a "target" zone. Inside the zone, a series of test subjects wearing loose-fitting robes over their clothes, meant to replicate those routinely worn in Afghanistan, entered one by one. Each walked forward and then retreated past a string of orange cones, allowing the detectors to examine them front and back.

Some of the walkers were carrying concealed, simulated IEDs, Which had been carefully designed to mimic the types most commonly found in theater. Others were clean. It was up to the technology operator to determine which was which, and to pinpoint the location of a potential device when one was found.

"The most critical thing is that they're able to do it at standoff range," said Ed Mason, chief of the Counter-IED Office at ESC. "If we have to be right up with the person in order to detect the device, that's obviously a huge problem."

Therefore, during the tests, checkpoint detectors operated at such a range, using a variety of technologies including infrared and X-ray backscatter to examine those who entered the zone.

In actual operation, if detectors target someone they suspect of carrying a PBIED, they would isolate them and have them lift up or remove their outer clothing for a visual or camera-aided inspection, still at a safe distance, said Jim McMath, an engineer with the IEDD Program Office.

The Department of Defense, through its Joint IED Defeat Office, known as JIEDDO, is looking to bring these capabilities into theater as quickly as possible.

"They came to us in late August and asked if we could start testing some of these technologies within five weeks, and by late September we had the first tests up and running," Mason said. "They knew we had the program management, acquisition and testing skill, and experience to make it happen."

After each round of testing--tests are expected to take place quarterly from here on--the ESC team prepares a report. The report provides a statistical analysis of the Probability of Detection rate and the False Alarm Rate of each technology. Beyond that, the report factors in other variables, such as size, weight, and ease of setup.

"We also determine how hard or simple it is to operate," Mason said. "If it takes a PhD to operate the equipment, we take that into consideration in the report. Likewise, if any Joe Schmoe can run it, we note that."

Once JIEDDO receives and analyzes the Air Force report, it determines which technologies to continue pursuing and will likely provide funds for further technical development. JIEDDO will also ask the ESC team to conduct more rigorous capabilities and limitation testing, which would be done in a sophisticated test environment, such as those available at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Ultimately, the ESC team, at JIEDDO's direction, will put the companies with the most promising technologies on contract for an operational assessment in theater, where users can try it out in real-world action. If it works well, the final step is to get it into production and out to operators en masse.

Some people have asked why the Air Force is involved in efforts to defeat IEDs, which are a ground threat.

"The Defense Department is interested in pursuing good ideas, no matter where they come from, and they'll turn to whichever Service has the ability to test them out and get them fielded," Mason said.

In many cases, counter-IED efforts are achieved jointly. A current example involves the ongoing acquisition of 600 advanced metal detectors, which will be used to reduce threats during the January elections in Iraq. The ESC team conducted the market research to determine what was needed--things such as the ability to zone in on the location of an object on a body and stabilizers that enable outdoor use, regardless of wind or other weather conditions. They also conducted the market research into which vendors could supply what's needed quickly. The Army's Natick (Mass.) Soldiers Center, located about 10 miles from Hanscom AFB, handled the actual procurement of the detectors and all associated equipment.

"This was a great example of the Services working together to find the best and fastest solution," Mason said.

Paone writes for 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs.
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Author:Paone, Chuck
Publication:Defense AT & L
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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