IED detection and persistent surveillance are some of last remaining defense opportunities

THE MIL & AERO VIDEO BLOG, 29 Oct. 2012. IED detection -- or the ability to locate and neutralize roadside bombs before they're detonated -- and persistent surveillance are about the only promising areas of a U.S. defense budget that's looking more desolate by the day, as John Keller reports this week in the Military & Aerospace Electronics video blog.

Well, most of us know how tough things are right now in the aerospace and defense electronics business ... that is, unless your company has a track record in detecting improvised explosive devices -- or IEDs -- or in surveillance and reconnaissance.

IED detection -- or the ability to locate and neutralize roadside bombs before they're detonated -- and persistent surveillance are about the only promising areas of a U.S. defense budget that's looking more desolate by the day.

Now it stands to reason that business opportunities and contract awards from the Pentagon might be slow about now. We've got a presidential election next week, and two candidates with vastly different philosophies of how to manage the Department of Defense.

You can almost feel the tension, but the results of the election are beside the point; what we're seeing is a defense business that's in virtual suspended animation until we get some indication of how U.S. defense policy will move forward. The election results will be step-one, but until then no one's doing anything, or spending any money of consequence.

We have a sense of where precious defense dollars are going, however, and I suspect these trends to continue after the election, no matter who prevails. If we can consider recent solicitations and contracts as any kinds of signposts, then IED detection, and persistent surveillance, and to a lesser degree, unmanned vehicles are where it's at.

I need to give a word of caution here. The IED detection and surveillance business the Pentagon is conducting lately does not represent big dollars. What's going on really represents maintenance and incremental improvements in capability that's already out there.

Here's an example. The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization announced a market study last week to find companies able to build soldier-worn buried IED detectors that weigh less than 20 pounds. It's not that soldier-worn IED detectors don't already exist; they do. The Pentagon just wants this capability shrunk down so a foot soldier can wear it with all the other gear he needs to bring into the field.

Also this month the Naval Surface Warfare Center announced a program to develop a fast, mobile land mine detector for locating non-metallic buried explosives. That's a nice way of saying IEDs and other explosives that can hide from conventional metal detectors. What the Navy really wants is a hand-held device to help special operations forces detect and pinpoint unconventional explosive threats.

The common thread I'm seeing is small, lightweight technology that can detect IEDs quickly and accurately. No real surprise there. It's encouraging, however, that at least somebody in the Pentagon is spending some money.

DARPA is getting into the game, too, with a program called Methods for Explosive Detection at Standoff, or MEDS. This is an attempt to develop ways to detect bombs hidden in ... are you ready for this? ... "opaque media with high water content." That's government-speak for IEDs hidden in mud, meat, and -- believe it or not -- dead animals.

I guess we have an idea where the new IED threats are coming from.

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