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Iraqi cell networks: friend and foe


Think of the difficulty of attempting to fight an insurgency skilled in asymmetric techniques not in a fully military environment where there is no expectation of noncombatants for sustaining and improving infrastructure, but in a hybrid military-commercial environment where there is an infrastructure, however limited, that the insurgents use to attack US forces even as US political goals seek to improve that infrastructure in order to move the local economy towards normalcy and self-sufficiency.

Think Iraq and its nascent cellular network (first appearing in Iraq in 2003) which is used for common commercial ends and by coalitions of Baathists and insurgents as both a Command, Control and Communications (C3) network and as a triggering mechanism to detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs)., or IEDs:

Almost anything that blows up can be turned into an IED, from grenades to plastic explosives to leftover mines. The most everyday of electronics -- a cell phone, a garage door opener, a child's remote-control toy -- can be recast as a trigger. And the hiding places for the handmade bombs are everywhere: in the ground, aboard a truck, even inside an animal carcass.

Readers are directed to Enemy Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) and Recommendations for a detailed description of the problems that US forces face in dealing with IEDs. Beyond death, severe injury and disruption of military operations, there is the palpable isolation that IEDs of all kinds bring to US forces in their attempt to engage civilian populations.

US forces are pursuing a multi-pronged approach to deal with IEDs:

  • Passive interruption of the cell call intended to detonate the IED
  • Active microwave focused beam tools that detonate the IED prior to approach of US forces
  • Interruption of Iraqi cell networks in specific areas of operation
  • Spoofing of Iraqi cell networks by the substitution of "evil twin" clones that presumably allow US forces to track timing of calls and GPS positioning of callers, functions that local Iraqi networks do not perform

Passive interruption commenced with the Warlock radio frequency jammers based on an earlier system designed to protect troops against proximity-fused weapons such as mortar shells. Warlock essentially works by "intercepting the signal sent from a remote location to the IED instructing it to detonate… The signal 'cannot make contact, therefore when it can’t make contact it doesn’t detonate,' much like a cellular phone call that does not connect… The cell phone never gets through, but [enemy forces] think it goes through." Certain Warlocks were designed for ad hoc efforts by connecting to a vehicle's cigarette lighter or any standard 12V DC power source. Jammers are still problematic as the user has to find and remain on the frequency of that particular cell phone, garage door opener, even a vehicle's remote key entry device being used to detonate the IED. Blanketing the area with multiple frequency devices in the old Soviet "gap filler" strategy raises the risk that US forces will not know if they have interrupted all the devices. Unfortunately, trumpeting the capability of jammers and getting them into the hands of troops are two different matters.

A more effective IED countermeasure is believed to be pulsed electromagnetic energy that either can "fry the circuits of these bombs" or even detonate them. One experimental effort is NIRF (Neutralizing Improvised Explosive Devices with RF) which "produces a very high-frequency field, in the microwave range, at very short range" to disable an IED's electronics. Another is the Scorpion which has "pre-detonated a wide variety of IEDs it encountered in realistic test scenarios, based on U.S. experience in Iraq." One would expect that pilot systems are already in Iraq but the released information states likely deployments later in 2005.

Part 2

Iraq's Cellphone Battle
Service Provider Iraqna Tries To Meet Demand Despite Long Outages, Insurgent Use
July 21, 2005

ATK Under Contract For Counter-IED Program
Space Daily
Minneapolis MN (SPX)
Jun 20, 2005

Army Buys 8,000 Jammers To Equip Troops
Agence France-Presse
March 18, 2005

Improvised Bombs Baffle Army
By Noah Shachtman
Wired News
02:00 AM Jan. 26, 2005 PT

Enemy Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) and Recommendations
MAJ Eric O. Estep
Support Operations Plans
3rd COSCOM [Corps Suport Command]
LSA Anaconda, Iraq

Defense Tech
November 22, 2004 09:42 AM

Defense Tech
September 28, 2004 12:16 AM

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Terrorism Public  
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