Counter-IED Branch receives top AFA award

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- A team of Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Branch members from Hanscom will take center stage and receive one of the Air Force Association's top honors during the 2014 Air and Space Conference Award Ceremony in National Harbor, Md., Sept 15, 2014.

The 12-member C-IED program office, a unit within the Life Cycle Management Center's Force Protection Division, was named the winner of the Theodore von Karman Award -- an honor given to those who have made significant contributions to national defense in the field of science and engineering.

"We have a very important mission," said 1st Lt. Wesley Thomas, a C-IED project engineer. "And it's definitely an honor to be recognized, but the real validation comes from knowing our work saves lives."

Just as the name suggests, the Counter-IED program office is responsible for capabilities and technology used to detect and destroy one of the most common and damaging weapons found on today's battlefield -- IEDs.

"IEDs come in many shapes and sizes," Thomas said. "These devices are hidden on vehicles, planted within the soil on roadways and also come in the form of humans as suicide bombers."

While the team's contributions are numerous, several particular efforts led to its recent recognition.

The development and deployment of the world's smallest synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, for airborne IED detection is one such example.

The team equipped four RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles with a lightweight Ku band SAR and an ultra-wide band, ultra-high frequency SAR. Integrated onto the Shadow, the system provides threat detection capabilities to dismounted troops and route clearance patrols. This capability is currently unavailable on any other lightweight portable aircraft.

However, the SAR system wasn't the only piece of equipment the C-IED team procured for UAVs.

A system called the "Terminator," a lethal miniature aerial munitions system, is now in use as a result of the C-IED team. And the system does exactly what its name implies -- destroy threats.

"It's a small UAV packed with a miniature warhead," Thomas said. "It allows ground troops to engage enemy forces and IEDs from a distance, behind obstacles, without exposing the warfighter to direct enemy fire."

In addition to advancements in aerial technology, the C-IED team recognized that improvements were needed on the ground as well.

The program office was able to provide metallic and non-metallic handheld detectors -- equipment that uses ground penetrating radar -- to all 36 deployed Air Force explosive ordnance disposal teams.

"We also conducted a study and solicited feedback from operators to determine what types of upgrades were needed to their bomb suits," Thomas said.

Identified upgrades include an improved communications system between the operators inside and outside the suit as well as adjustments in the lighting and speakers within the helmet that provide visual and audible validation of threats.

"This is in response to an urgent operational need and is a crucial upgrade that is now well in the works through the Air Force quick reaction capability process," Thomas said.

Integration of the SAR system, deployment of the Terminator capability and upgrades to Air Force EOD equipment were just a few of the reasons that led to the AFA award.

"I couldn't be more proud of the Counter-IED team and their contributions," said Steven Wert, Battle Management program executive officer. "It is an extremely small team doing critically important work. Their rapid response and innovation is an outstanding example of the Battle Management team's commitment to meet today's warfighting challenges using cutting edge technology and a 'can do, will do' attitude."