Air Force Commander: Stop Looking for IEDs from Above

Though the Air Force has used a wide range of manned and unmanned aircraft to try to locate improvised explosive devices -- the single largest cause of casualties to U.S. forces in Iraq -- a top Air Force commander bluntly sums up that approach as a waste of effort and resources.

Gen. Ronald Keys, speaking in Virginia Beach, Va., at the Transformation Warfare Conference sponsored by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute, said that the Air Force had deployed assets ranging from large surveillance aircraft to unmanned aerial vehicles, based on a “hazy feeling” from commanders that such aviation assets would help counter IEDs.

But Keys said he viewed this approach as a “waste of assets.” Keys said flying F-16 fighters or Predator drones over roads in Iraq would not help located IEDs, because “there’s just too much junk” buried all over the country, and they can’t sort it out from actual bombs.

Keys said the Air Force and top military commanders ought to focus their attention on the network that produces the deadly devices.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Air Force for Acquisition, told the conference that the way to counter IEDs is to “find out where the explosives come from and who the bomb makers are.”

Mark Lamer, a top Army contracting official who has served in Iraq, said that counter-IED efforts also must keep pace with the evolving nature of the threat, pointing out that once U.S. forces in Iraq started equipping troops with jamming gear to knock out radio-controlled IEDs, then adversaries developed motion-sensor activated devices.