WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. defense officials are preparing to determine the future of a powerful, high-profile Pentagon organization that has spent nearly a decade developing equipment, tactics and training to defeat roadside bombs.
Last month, House lawmakers included a provision in their version of the 2014 defense authorization bill that requires the Defense Department to provide a report on the future of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).
At a time when the Pentagon is facing hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts over the next decade, senior military leadership is said to be considering three options for restructuring JIEDDO: eliminate the organization; break up its duties among the military services through a process called disaggregation; or restructure JIEDDO into a smaller office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
In March 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for the elimination of the JIEDDO director billet, a position held by four different three-star generals since 2008. The elimination would be “based upon deployment of forces and IED threat,” Gates wrote in a memo at the time.
But supporters of JIEDDO said the counter-IED mission must be preserved through the Quadrennial Defense Review, which lays out future U.S. military strategy and is due to Congress early next year. These supporters point to recent intelligence assessments that say terrorist networks will continue to use IEDs against the United States and its allies.
“We have to realize that the IED is part of our operational environment now,” said retired Army Command Sgt. Maj.Todd Burnett, a former senior enlisted adviser to JIEDDO.
A May Center for Naval Analyses assessment of the “post-Afghanistan IED threat” found the IED will likely persist in the coming years.
With that in mind, JIEDDO supporters argue that the third option — creating a smaller office within OSD — would be best.
“DoD needs a small, scalable, agile, OSD-level organization with special authorities, ramp-up ability and flexible funding to implement and synchronize ... enduring counter-IED capabilities,” a defense official said.
Since its birth in 2006, JIEDDO has spent about $20 billion, according to budget documents. Spending peaked near $4 billion in 2008, around the time of the surge in Iraq. Since then, spending has declined to about $2 billion. A scaled-down counter-IED organization would likely cost about one-fourth of that, a defense official said.
Officials close to JIEDDO said the office has already cut costs, and they point to the cancellation this year of a number of underperforming programs.
These cancellations have allowed the office to reinvest more than $289 million in training and to purchase reconnaissance robots and bomb-detection equipment. The JIEDDO office is expected to cut 22 percent of its staff by September, a reduction expected to save $163 million.
The majority of the money spent by JIEDDO has gone toward what it calls defeating the device, or purchasing systems and equipment to detect or protect soldiers from IEDs. This includes purchases of robots, electronic jammers, vehicles and even aerostats.
The equipment includes both U.S. and foreign-made systems, such as more than 800 British-built Self-Protection Adaptive Roller Kits, giant rollers that can be mounted on vehicles to detect roadside bombs
The rest of the funding has gone toward intelligence used to go after IED networks and training equipment.
The Options on the Table
In January, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, a panel that vets military requirements, said the Pentagon must maintain counter-IED capabilities, including the ability to identify threat networks that employ or facilitate IEDs, detect bombs and components, prevent or neutralize bombs, mitigate explosive device efforts, distribute bomb-related data across the the community of interest and train personnel in counter-IED capabilities.
Since then, three options have emerged as likely courses of action, sources say.
The first — eliminating JIEDDO and its mission — is not likely, a defense official said. The two more likely courses of action are scaling down the existing organization or delegating the training and equipping mission to the services through disaggregation.
If the disaggregation option is chosen, many of JIEDDO’s components could be split among the services, with acquisition authority most likely going to the Army, the official said.
JIEDDO reports to OSD and has special acquisition authority, allowing decisions and purchases to move quicker.
Through disaggregation, each of the services would likely be responsible for its own training, which supporters of JIEDDO said means different methods and equipment might be used.
Also unclear is how the intelligence apparatus within the organization would be restructured.
The other option is consolidating JIEDDO into a smaller OSD-level organization. An organization under this framework would be best equipped to rapidly procure counter-IED equipment, officials said. Special acquisition authority used by JIEDDO could be applied to this organization, allowing it to field equipment, quicker.
JIEDDO’s goal is to field what it calls capabilities in four to 24 months. After that time frame, the initiatives typically become official programs of record or terminated.
A review of 132 initiatives deployed showed that 93 — with a total price tag of $5.9 billion — were proved “operationally effective.” An additional 18, costing $900 million, were “operationally effective with some limitations in capability.” An additional 21 — totaling $400 million — were “not operationally proven,” or lacked evaluation information.
A key aspect of JIEDDO likely to be retained in a consolidated organization is the Counter-IED Operations/Intelligence Center (COIC). The center provides operational intelligence and analysis on threat networks to commanders in the field by fusing more than six dozen data sources.
The COIC also regularly interacts with more than two dozen U.S. government intelligence agencies and international partners, including Canada, the UK, Australia and NATO.
An International Problem
IEDs are seen as a threat globally, not just in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Since January 2011, more than 17,000 IED “events” have occurred in 123 countries, according to David Small, a JIEDDO spokesman. Outside Afghanistan, there are an average of 700 IED events each month.
Between December 2012 and May, Iraq experienced 3,352 incidents, the most of any country other than Afghanistan. Colombia experienced 1,005 during that period, with Pakistan third at 883. Syria, which has been in the midst of a civil war, has experienced 382 IED incidents.
In May, JIEDDO signed an agreement with Pakistan to minimize the IED threat. The arrangement allows sharing of information, including tactics, finding of IED incidents, lessons learned, information about IED financiers and information about the flow of IED materials.
Joe Gould contributed to this report.