Taking Clearance Off-Route

By Critical Solutions International Mar 14, 2018 11:07:14 AM
Route clearance methodology is often shaped as much by available resources as it is by the threat or environment. For well-resourced forces, this generally means matching the increasing impact of IED threats with increased resources, spending more on sophisticated equipment and vehicle platforms. For less well-resourced, but equally threatened security forces, thought must be given to how available resources can be applied effectively.

Husky clearing a route

The foundation of most clearance equipment sets is protection. Equipment, if nothing else must protect personnel from the effects of a blast to allow them to safely and confidently detect explosive hazards. Without prioritizing protection, clearance personnel end up more focused expecting a strike than they do preventing it from ever happening. Protection is accomplished either through survivability or standoff. Survivability is offered by directly reducing the effect of a blast on personnel or equipment, while stand-off uses distance to enable safe engagement with explosive threats.

Understanding Route Clearance from the Enemy’s Perspective

Modern route clearance tactics are most effectively applied when clearance personnel understand the IED threat from the enemy’s perspective. IEDs are often mistakenly perceived as purely opportunistic or random, but most IEDs are placed to achieve specific tactical and strategic effects.

That said, IEDs have limitations, largely shaped by the main characteristic of their success: their non-standard design. While the absence of standardization makes it difficult for clearance teams to identify patterns in construct or employment, it also often reduces the strategic efficiency with which they can be emplaced. This means that the investment and risk are often assumed at an individual emplacer’s level. When IEDs are emplaced, deliberate purpose is critical. As IEDs are the primary mobility obstacle of insurgencies, these group’s resource limitations require the placement of point obstacles as opposed to obstacle belts. This means it is even more important than with conventional obstacles for emplacers to use the surrounding environment and target knowledge to select the best placement and trigger mechanism to maximize the likelihood of a successful strike.

Chief among the IED’s limitations is the precision with which they must be emplaced to maximize their efficiency and increase the likelihood of a strike. This results in some predictably of their linear placement along target routes. “On-route” clearance personnel have learned to adapt accordingly, placing primary emphasis on vehicle survivability and the detection and interrogation of on-route, subsurface indicators.

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RC-Light: Appropriate Application of Limited Resources

On-route detection, using highly survivable platforms, is the most effective way to definitively identify on-route IED threats. Vehicles like CSI’s Husky are the most survivable platform available to clearance units and can be adapted to apply detection and interrogation payloads for safe response to large explosive threats. Employing a pure fleet of survivable platforms for all personnel tasked to operate in high-threat areas, while ideal, isn’t always practical or possible for resource-limited security forces. In these instances, a common response is to attempt to apply less survivable vehicles to execute clearance tasks in the same way as highly survivable platforms. The problem is that these platforms are then used with the same payloads, the same standoff, against the same threat... but with a decreased level of protection for operators. Application of clearance technology can either focus on survivability or increased standoff when addressing the effect of proximity on executing the clearance mission. This is why resource-constrained clearance forces, limited by survivability must focus on mobility and standoff, using an RC-light, off-route approach to clearance.

light resource route clearance

If applied appropriately, specific payloads can be adapted to operate on lighter, less survivable vehicles enabling them to retain their mobility and enhance survivability through standoff. The very characteristics of platforms that make them survivable often restrict their mobility to the route. This limits options for engaging threats in by less predictable, non-linear means. Features that dictate pace and direction of travel of conventional route clearance elements are often exploited by emplacers and their early warning networks. In the same way, lighter clearance payloads can be integrated with minimal restrictions to travel and disrupt the assumptions made by IED emplacement networks. At the furthest end of the spectrum dismounted clearance elements, though restricted by pace and distance, can be applied with precision using rotary-wing aircraft at specific areas of interest along a route, disrupting triggermen or offset victim operated switches. Similarly, light vehicles can push off route to isolate command wires or use optics and directional sensors to detect threat systems while maintaining standoff. Light UAVs can be used to visually interrogate on route indicators or place small disruptive or exploratory charges.

Challenges of Off-Route Clearance

Limiting the clearance package to on-route movement is costly but relatively intuitive since the terrain encountered is linear and one-dimensional. Clearance assets proceed generally in structured order of march: detection, interrogation, C2, security, disposal, recovery, etc. Off-route movement is multi-dimensional and therefore requires in-depth knowledge of non-standard movement formations, tactics, and non-sequential capabilities.

For the same reasons, off-route clearance requires more mission planning than conventional linear clearance with a larger focus on contingencies and battle drills.

Adaptable and Context-Driven

The response to an ever-evolving threat is never absolute. Clearance units should be prepared to respond to new threats with not only new equipment but also new tactics. Only in this way can they disrupt the assumptions of their enemy instead of just responding to threat evolutions. Sometimes the answer lies with survivable platforms and sophisticated sensors. Other times light, mobile platforms that enable versatility and standoff are better suited. Clearance resourcing and execution must take this into consideration to avoid becoming a static target for an agile threat.

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Category: Route Clearance, Husky, C-IED, Insights

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