Special Report - C-IED

IEDs – Learning From History

Historical background

The term IED was originally used by the British Army in reference to the booby trap devices that were made by the Provisional IRA during ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. These devices utilised Semtex, which up until recently was very difficult to detect, and agricultural fertiliser as their explosive component.

The Provisional IRA were not, however, the first organisation to use IEDs. IEDs have been around for hundreds of years. In World War 2 Belarussian guerrillas used IEDs against the Germans to derail thousands of German trains. IEDs were also used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

Nonetheless, the Provisional IRA took the IED to a level of technical sophistication not seen before. Devices featured anti-handling technologies such as micro-switches and mercury tilt switches, which detonated the device if it was moved. Advanced safe arm mechanisms were also featured on IRA IEDs, which armed the device at a set time after it was placed. Later devices could be detonated by remote control and when the British Army developed Jamming devices, the Provisional IRA responded by incorporating pulsed radio code based arming and detonation technologies into their devices.

The main drivers for increased IED usage in the twentieth century

A number of factors contributed to the increased use of IEDs during the twentieth century. These included the increased availability of military explosives during the Cold War, advances in electrical and electronic technology and the discovery by bomb makers that easily accessible industrial and agricultural products could be used in place of or in combination with traditional explosives as the main charge. Furthermore, the Internet has enabled IED fabrication and usage techniques to be disseminated internationally among insurgents and other organisations and individuals lacking conventional military capability.

Next generation IEDs

As seen in Northern Ireland bomb makers are constantly seeking ways to thwart IED countermeasures and improve device effectiveness. One disturbing development in Afghanistan that military experts identified at the beginning of 2010 is a trend towards developing IEDs that cannot be detected using conventional methods. This next generation of IEDs contain no metal or electronic parts and instead utilise graphite rather than metal blades in the triggering mechanism. Additionally these new devices rely primarily on blast effect caused rather than shrapnel to cause damage.

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