Angus Batey reports from DSEi in London:
The threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been a defining feature of modern military operations. Indeed, IEDs have killed and injured more military personnel in the 21st century than any other weapon.
A technological approach to defeating IEDs is still in demand, and companies exhibiting at the Defence Systems and Equipment International event here this week are not lacking in innovative approaches that can be also applied to the civilian world.
Among the more advanced capabilities is Elbit Systems' Miniature Reactive Jammer (MRJ), which is being launched at the show but is already in use with the Israeli Defence Force and other unnamed customers.
"In the previous generation of wideband jamming, two things happen," says Elbit's senior director for land electronic warfare, Shmuel Davidi. "First, you're jamming all over the band, and splitting up your power, so efficiency is low; and second, you're interfering with your own communications systems." The company's solution is a 60kg box that is small enough to fit in car-sized vehicles, low-powered enough to run from the vehicle's battery, and that can receive, detect, analyze, decide and trigger a jamming effect in response to a signal it picks up without interfering with command-and-control transmissions.
But, as figures published by the U.S. Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization confirm, only about a third of reported IED strikes worldwide in the past year have been against military targets. What about everyone else?
Optima Group has built a solid business out of a people-first approach to counter-IED work. The company acts as a consultant and trainer. "For the past three years, it's fair to say that every IED detect or destroy capability that's gone into Afghanistan [with the British military], we've assisted in defining the concepts, writing the requirements, trialling the kit, designing and delivering the training," says Keith Hammond, the Group's managing director. At present, 10 Optima staff members are based at Camp Bastion, Helmand, supplying training to every British officer involved in IED search operations -- which is around four officers for every patrol.
But the company does not just supply the defense ministry. It has also designed counter-IED training for the International Committee of the Red Cross and has created a course for members of the general public who wish to acquire basic skills in awareness of IEDs and how best to cope in the immediate aftermath of a detonation.
"You only have to look at the Boston Marathon [bombing] to know that the IED threat is a civilian threat as well," says the Group's new non-executive director, Maj. Gen. (ret) Jonathan Shaw. "A large part of the threat of IEDs is to civilian organisations and to growth globally. Africa, for instance, is in receipt of lots of aid from Britain, [and has experienced] the most spectacular rise in IED incidence over the last three years. If we're going to help Africa develop, then it needs help in countering this threat of IEDs, which will only hinder its development and keep people in poverty for much longer. So there is a real cross-government urge to invest in IED capabilities across the world."