Improving “Combat Geophysics” in Afghanistan
By applying private industry investigation and range clearance procedures, Task Force Warhammer significantly improved mounted and dismounted route clearance operations in theater.
BY COL. WILLIAM MYER, PG, M.SAME, ARNG
Capt. Anthony Chrisopoulos, TF Warhammer Counter IED Officer, prepares a simulated IED location on the mounted validation lane during route clearance preparation in Afghanistan. PHOTOS BY COL. BILL MYER, ARNG
The 507th Engineer Battalion “Task Force (TF) Warhammer,” headquartered out of Kalamazoo, Mich., recently completed a deployment in Afghanistan providing mission command for route clearance operations in Regional Command Southwest and West. The task force applied private industry quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) procedures and data quality objectives to improve the overall “find-to-strike ratio” for improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Before TF Warhammer deployed, limited QA/QC procedures were applied to route clearance operations. When they were, they often varied in procedure from unit to unit. Private industry procedures typically delineate the lateral and horizontal extent/distribution/density of UXO to develop a proposed remedial action that is risk based and protective of human health. Private industry, federal and state governmental agencies will utilize QA/QC processes outlined in an Interstate Technology Regulatory Council document titled Technical/Regulatory Guideline: Geophysical Prove-Outs for Munitions Response Projects.
Route clearance, or “combat geophysics,” is the process where a route clearance patrol identifies a subsurface anomaly (mounted or dismounted) then intrusively interrogates it immediately. This differs from UXO investigations conducted stateside where, with no enemy threat present, the mapped subsurface anomaly can be re-acquired at a later date due to restricted access to the site. When conducting route clearance, however, failure to interrogate a potential explosive hazard can result in acute danger in a combat environment: IED detonation.
Private industry and governmental agencies work to ensure the geophysical platforms/detection devices/instruments are functioning as designed before starting the investigation. Additionally, data quality objectives (DQOs) are developed for the UXO investigation to ensure that detection sensors/platforms are capable of detecting subsurface anomalies that represent potential UXO expected to be encountered.
If contractors were not subjected to these upfront QA/QC procedures or evaluated against DQOs prior to an investigation, a significant amount of time and money could be wasted if the detection sensors were not functioning in the field. With the application of additional QA/QC procedures and DQO techniques to route clearance, the potential of a patrol not detecting an IED can be significantly reduced and improve the overall find-to-strike ratio.
At the start of its deployment TF Warhammer developed a tactical directive that outlined QA/QC procedures to improve the overall effectiveness of the clearance patrol. The directive included:
- Adding validation lanes and DQOs for mounted (ground penetrating radar magnetometer panel) and dismounted detection sensors (such as Minehound, Valon, Schoenstadt, Cheetah).
- Adjusting the maximum allowable speed for mounted hasty and deliberate clearance operations.
- Increasing redundancy in mounted detection assets (ground penetrating radar as a primary, magnetometer panel as a secondary, and visual with no detection sensors).
- Applying a limit/maximum amount of operator time for Husky operators.
The mounted and dismounted validation lanes followed a similar process used by industry. The validation lanes were similar to geophysical prove outs performed by industry as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to support UXO cleanup efforts stateside. Geophysical prove outs are basically a test track for detection sensors. One exception is that for route clearance mounted detection sensors, two sensors have already been selected for the route clearance units, regardless of whether the sensor is effective or not in the area of operation. Per the Task Force’s tactical directive, patrols were required to execute the validation lanes as part of the unit’s pre-combat inspections and pre-combat checks to ensure that mounted and dismounted detection sensor’s were functioning as designed. Additionally, the sensors and operators had to meet DQOs as part of the validation lanes.
The 507th Engineer Battalion, “Task Force Warhammer,” applied private industry investigation and range clearance procedures while deployed to Afghanistan to improve the “find-to-strike ratio” for IEDs.
The mounted validation lanes were designed and constructed to ensure that Husky Mounted Detection System or ground penetrating radar could detect pressure plates and associated explosive charges that were commonly encountered in the area of operation. The Husky is the primary combat vehicle for deploying mounted detection assets. The validation lane was 200-M in length. TF Warhammer’s Counter IED Officer was responsible for supporting the construction of the validation lanes and coordinating with various military agencies in theater to procure materials to develop and create realistic training IEDs for use in the validation lanes. Each route clearance company in the task force had functional mounted and dismounted validation lanes.
The first 100-M of the lane had five seeded items (IEDs/pressure plates) with the location marked/known by the operator. The first DQO was that each operator was required to find four of the five known seeded items. If an operator could not find the minimum number of items three actions could occur: 1) the operator could re-run the lane after conducting some additional training with an experienced operator; 2) the detection sensor vehicle could be changed out; or 3) the company commander could request authorization from the battalion commander to conduct operations with an operator and or equipment that was not functioning. Either action required the company commander to sign off on the validation for the patrol prior to the unit going on mission.
Emplacing seeded items with the location marked/known served two purposes. It provided leadership with an indication of the operator’s ability to find a known item and also delineated whether the equipment was properly functioning or the operator required additional training and experience. Either way, the operator and leadership were able to identify the problem and implement a corrective action if the DQO could not be achieved.
Operators had to find the minimum required items to pass the validation and meet the DQO. Often, when an issue was identified, company leadership would implement corrective actions to address it. These actions included cancelling the mission depending on the number of detection sensors that were unable to meet the minimum requirements, or swapping out operators and or equipment. Additionally, changing site conditions (temperature, moisture in the soil, or no moisture in the soil) played a significant role in the capability and limitations of the detection sensors to function as designed.
The second 100-M of the lane contained five blind seeded items. This DQO required the operator to find three of the five blinded seed items (location unknown to operator). Similar to the known items in the first portion of the lane, the operator’s ability to find three or more unknown items served as an indicator as to whether the detection asset was functioning as designed; whether the operator required more training or confidence in the equipment; or it could signal changing site conditions.
The validation lane requirement in the tactical directive placed accountability on leadership to ensure that the route clearance patrol and the operator’s detection sensors were functioning properly prior to starting the mission. The validation lanes were a great tool to improve the overall effectiveness and confidence of the detection sensor operators (mounted and dismounted) and allowed operators to understand their capabilities and limitations. They also helped verify and confirm site conditions for IEDs when the detection assets failed to detect them on previous missions.
The mounted and dismounted validation lanes helped build operator confidence in the detection assets and limitations, they assisted in identifying operators and units that may require additional training, and they identified equipment failures prior to conducting operations. Utilizing private industry QA/QC practices proved invaluable during TF Warhammer’s deployment. The validation lanes also allowed units to communicate performance issues to the contractors who were supporting the detection sensors and equipment, and played a major role in confirming the effectiveness of the detection assets with changing site conditions, specifically weather.
The only difference in the approach between the military and private industry is that industry collects the data, maps the data, selects targets to interrogate, and intrusively investigates the anomaly or target. The military finds the target in real time and either investigates it intrusively on the spot or continues with the action, with the outcome sometimes resulting in a strike.
The end state is clear: to improve the find-to-strike ratio when conducting route clearance operations in theater.