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A U.S. Marine inspects the remains of a vehicle destroyed in a roadside bombing that killed 14 Marines and a civilian interpreter near Haditha, Iraq. »The Victims: Faces of the Fallen (Antonio Castaneda / Associated Press)

Correction to This Article
Army Spec. Hugo Gonzalez was misidentified in two photo captions with the Oct. 1 installment of the Left of Boom series, and his rank was incorrect on Page One. Also, in some editions of the Oct. 2 installment of the series, the full name of an EFP, a type of weapon used by insurgents, was incorrectly given as "explosively formed perpetrator." It should have been "explosively formed penetrator."
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'You can't armor your way out of this problem'

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With a sharp push from Hunter and $10 million from Congress, factories in California and Maryland produced 10,000 jammers the size of walkie-talkies. The device was named Warlock Blue, although Hunter called it Little Blue. As the first models emerged from the production line in early July 2005, barely a month after the order was placed, the chairman touted "a new spirit of patriotic production." By August, soldiers and Marines were carrying the jammer on foot patrols across Iraq.

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But Warlock Blue was designed to counter a low-power radio threat that had never posed much danger to dismounted troops and had nearly disappeared in recent months as other jammers drove bombmakers to more powerful radio triggers.

The Blue was a half-watt jammer at a time when some engineers suspected that 50 watts might be too weak. Each one used eight lithium batteries, which required frequent replacement. In anticipation of Blue, the government bought 400,000 CR123 lithium batteries, according to the Navy. "Do you know what it's going to cost me for batteries for these systems?" one skeptical Army general asked an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer in Baghdad.

Some troops appreciated the Blue, and even considered it a good-luck talisman, like an electronic rabbit's foot. But many commanders believed the jammer was extraneous to the fight they faced, another well-intentioned gadget of marginal relevance. An electrical engineer with long experience in Iraq and Afghanistan later recalled: "A lot of people felt it was being crammed down their throats."

***

By late summer 2005, the explosively formed penetrator, like the underbelly IED, had become an appallingly lethal weapon for which there was no obvious countermeasure.

Although still a small fraction of all roadside bombings, EFP attacks since spring had increased from about one per week to roughly one every other day. When fired, the semi-molten copper disks struck with such violence that casualties tended to be higher and more gruesome than in other IED attacks. "This was beyond the capability of anything in our arsenal," an Army brigadier general said. "And, by the way, you can't armor your way out of this problem."

The passive infrared trigger used with most EFPs was not only immune to radio jamming, it was difficult to detect. When a mock EFP was installed on a Florida range used to train new EOD technicians, the device "killed" at least 400 of them in three months. Not one, according to an instructor, spotted the small lens that tripped the bomb.

Just as alarming was the first confirmed appearance, on July 6, 2005, of an EFP that combined a passive infrared trigger with a radio-controlled "telemetry module," electronic circuitry that allowed a triggerman to be selective about what he attacked.

Previously, an EFP would fire when the infrared sensor detected the first warm object to pass, whether a Humvee or an Iraqi tractor. But the telemetry module, which had civil uses in transmitting data, let the insurgent wait to arm the EFP with a radio signal as a U.S. convoy approached. Worse yet, those radio signals tended to use a frequency outside the "loadsets" programmed into most American jammers, according to an Army colonel.

These developments sparked diplomatic and military countermeasures. Washington and London reportedly sent protests to Iran, which was accused of supplying both training and materiel to Shiite insurgents in Iraq. In August 2005, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asserted that "it is true that weapons, clearly, unambiguously from Iran have been found in Iraq," an accusation Tehran denied.

The telemetry module that had been captured on July 6 was sent to the Terrorist Explosives Device Analytical Center in Quantico for examination by the FBI and other specialists. More EFPs followed, although in at least one instance -- involving an array with five warheads -- difficulty in transporting explosives and securing overflight permission delayed the shipment for weeks.


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