Consensus Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Attacks in London, Madrid, Bali, Oklahoma City and other places indicate that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are among the weapons of choice of terrorists throughout the world. Scientists and engineers have developed various technologies that have been used to counter individual IED attacks, but events in Iraq and elsewhere indicate that the effectiveness of IEDs as weapons of asymmetric warfare remains. The Office of Naval Research has asked The National Research Council to examine the current state of knowledge and practice in the prevention, detection, and mitigation of the effects of IEDs and make recommendations for avenues of research toward the goal of making these devices an ineffective tool of asymmetric warfare. The report includes recommendations such as identifying the most important and most vulnerable elements in the chain of events leading up to an IED attack, determining how resources can be controlled in order to prevent the construction of IEDs, new analytical methods and data modeling to predict the ever-changing behavior of insurgents/terrorists, a deeper understanding of social divisions in societies, enhanced capabilities for persistent surveillance, and improved IED detection capabilities.

Key Messages

  • Analytical methods that quantitatively assess the effectiveness of IED countermeasures are needed.
  • Available resources energetic material, initiators, triggering devices, knowledge, finances, and facilities are critical in determining the type, number, and effectiveness of IED attacks and directly influence the potential for detection and countermeasures.
  • The human terrain the political, social, cultural, and economic environment is a critical element at all stages of an IED attack, and it probably is also the most complex and the least well understood.
  • There are various points in the chain of events leading up to an IED attack at which improved detection and disruption technologies might be usefully applied. For each detection opportunity, there are basic-research issues regarding the particular signatures, methods, and limits of detection. With respect to disruption, technical opportunities exist to improve current approaches or to make them more readily fielded in theater.