Countering IEDs by using GIS

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In the military, soldiers face an abundance of threats when they are on deployment overseas. One of the scariest threats that they face on deployment is from improvised explosive devices, also known as IEDs.

IEDs can be made in a variety of different ways and be made using items like an artillery shell or even items you might find in a store such as a cell phone or pressure cooker. One of the tools that the Army uses to help prevent enemy attacks is GIS.

By inputting data from previous attacks or attacks that were prevented, GIS gives us a great visual picture of what has been taking place on the battlefield and allows leaders to get a better picture of what their soldiers are facing and make better decisions.

In 2019, I attended the Counter Explosive Hazard Planner course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. This was my first experience using GIS software and it really opened my eyes to GIS being used as a tool to help defeat threats and keep soldiers safe. It really showed me how GIS can be used to help influence our analysis on the area we are conducting missions in and allows leaders to make better informed decisions that might keep our soldiers safe.

With the help of GIS and data from previous attacks that either happened or were prevented we can start looking at patterns such as types of attacks, locations, time of attack, and the dates. By looking at this information and doing some analysis you are able to start answering questions that not only prevent soldiers from being attacked, but also assist units with finding out who is responsible or when and where they might attack again. This way soldiers can be waiting there to catch the individuals responsible for emplacing the IEDs.  

Map with common types of IEDs. They are command-wire improvised explosive device (CWIED), radio controlled improvised explosive device (RCIED), and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). Map: Mike Roberts.
Map with common types of IEDs. They are command-wire improvised explosive device (CWIED), radio controlled improvised explosive device (RCIED), and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). Map: Michael Roberts.


The first product shown is part of a larger product that I recently completed for an assignment. The topic was using GIS for conducting route clearance operations.

Route clearance operations are a task conducted by the military to counter IED efforts, secure routes and allow for safe freedom of travel. These types of operations can be very dangerous, but with the help of GIS and some analysis we can start projecting where high threat areas will be and even the dates and times, we are likely to encounter an IED.

You will notice that in this example image I have them categorized into three different common types of IEDs. They are command-wire improvised explosive device (CWIED), radio controlled improvised explosive device (RCIED), and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). You will notice in this specific area you are more likely to encounter command-wire IEDs followed by vehicle-borne IEDs and a few radio controlled IEDs.

Having this visual image of all these attacks also lets you notice certain things. You might have noticed that all the command-wire IED attacks are located along the major roads and that the majority of them are located at an intersection with another road.

For this example we have determined that the enemy is hiding down these secondary roads so that soldiers can’t see them as the soldiers are driving down the main roads, but the enemy has direct line of site with U.S. vehicles when they are right over the top of an IED they emplaced. We could then do further analysis and determine things like the most likely time these attackers are waiting for U.S. personnel and is there a specific date that they attack? All this information could aid our soldiers from being attacked, but also allow us to catch the attackers emplacing the IEDs. 

IED maps with theoretical territory overlays. Map: Mike Roberts
IED maps with theoretical territory overlays. Map: Michael Roberts

In the second map shown above you will notice I have added two overlays. These overlays represent the two theoretical terrorist groups we are fighting in this region. Through some prior analysis we were able to determine which groups were responsible for which IED attacks and show on the map above who is responsible for which attacks and determine what the likely area of operation is for both groups.

This is a significant map because not only does it give us a good idea of who we are fighting in a specific area, but as time goes on and we update this map it will let us know which group we are having the best impact against. For example, in six months from now this map may change and show that because of our efforts we were able to almost destroy Group B within this area. It may also show that Group A is no longer operating in their current location and they have moved to operating in the Northern part of the map. This will allow our forces to make decisions on where they can shift our focus to have the most impact.

A lot of analysis goes in to planning a military operation. This planning process, however, can be painfully slow. With the help of GIS, not only could we improve our analysis, but we could also increase the speed of our planning process. After attending the Counter Explosive Hazard Planner course, I have a much greater respect for what GIS can do to assist me and the military. I would highly encourage my peers to become familiar with GIS systems and use them. Not only can it help with planning, but it might help save someone’s life.

About the Author

CPT Michael Roberts has served in the U.S. Army for 10 years. He originally enlisting in the Kentucky Army National Guard in 2010 as a HIMARS Crewman. CPT Roberts commissioned as an Engineering Officer after graduating from Western Kentucky University with a B.S. in Architectural Science. CPT Roberts is a recent graduate of the Army Engineer Captains Career Course and is pursuing a graduate degree in Geological Engineering from Missouri University Science and Technology.

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