ITT sales of IED sensors rising fast

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ITT Corp.’s technology to counter homemade bombs in the war in Iraq has generated more than a half-billion dollars in sales and is expected to grow even more in the widening conflict in Afghanistan.

The company, which has offices in Colorado Springs, designs and manufactures devices to jam radio and broadband frequencies that will detonate homemade weapons — known as Improvised Explosive Devices in military parlance.

ITT shares the counter-IED business with industry giants Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corp.

It’s a multibillion-dollar industry and a life-saver for U.S. combat troops.

The Pentagon funneled $20 billion over three years to its Joint Improvised Explosive Device Deterrence Organization, the group focused on combating the IED threat.

Much of that money goes to private companies that create both vehicle armor and jamming devices for military vehicles.

“We probably have between $600 and $700 million (in sales) every year for the technology,” said Ed Palacio, senior vice president of programs and electronic systems for ITT. “It’s a robust sector for us, and one that we expect to grow this year, the next year and the year after — at least.”

JIEDDO’s budget for 2010 is $1.8 billion, an increase from $1.1 billion a year ago. An additional $400 million has been requested as part of a supplemental budget bill.

ITT entered the field seven years ago, one of the earliest companies to begin developing devices to counter sophisticated roadside bombs in Iraq. IEDs in Iraq were often made with military-grade munitions either stolen during the invasion or smuggled in from nearby countries.

The company recently landed a $16 million contract from the Naval Sea Systems command to develop the next-generation of counter-IED technology. The job will allow the company to continue to improve its Joint Counter Radio-Controlled Electronic Warfare 3.3, or JCREW. Currently, more than 20,000 JCREW 3.2 systems have been installed on military vehicles.

“These devices can intercept, analyze and react very quickly,” Palacio said. “And they can adapt for many different types of signals. It’s an important way to try to defeat the bomb makers.”

The technology is complex, and some of it is classified. But basically, the devices are designed to interrupt signals so the bombs never explode.

The military reports that in 2004, there was at least one casualty for every IED. By 2008, it took nine explosive devices to produce a single casualty.

Attacks in 2009 declined for the second straight year in Iraq, but are growing in Afghanistan.

Homemade bombs are the primary killer in Afghanistan, responsible for more than half the combat-related deaths of U.S. soldiers. Irene Smith, spokesperson for JIEDDO, said that IEDs in Afghanistan are used to target patrols and to defend Taliban areas.

“Currently, more than half of all the IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq are found and cleared before they can be used in an attack,” she said. “Once an explosive has been put in the ground, it’s a lot harder to detect. The challenge is to detect the signatures through sensors.”

That means that there’s still work and research to be performed by companies like ITT.

The Obama administration has asked Congress to approve $3.4 billion in 2011 to continue battling IEDs, an increase from $2.2 billion in 2010.

Still, staying ahead of the threat in Afghanistan isn’t going to be easy for high-tech companies.

“When we develop something that’s effective, the bomb-makers counter,” Palacio said. “And we have to respond. They get more sophisticated, use different techniques. So we have to do the same, to stay ahead of the threat.”

ITT’s JCREW systems are just one of the ways JIEDDO is confronting IEDs. The organization is also making critical components more difficult to import into Afghanistan, and is also using robots and remote video feeds to find and destroy the IEDs on the ground.

The military remains confident that the jammers will be needed. It recently ordered 8,000 more CREW systems.

“We are looking at successes and failures in both theaters to improve technologies,” Smith said. “Lessons learned, and tactics, techniques and procedures are constantly gathered, collated and made available.”

Gen. Michael Oates, head of JIEDDO, said technology like ITT’s has played a big role in controlling the IED threat.

“Technology has returned a great investment in protecting our soldiers,” he said.