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Though IED detonations have declined in Afghanistan since a peak of more than 2,000 in the month of June 2012, Department of Defense reports indicated IEDs accounted for about 60 percent of U.S. casualties that year.
Detecting improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan requires constant, intensive monitoring using rugged equipment. When Sandia researchers first demonstrated a modified miniature synthetic aperture radar (MiniSAR) system to do just that, some experts did not believe it.
Those early doubts, however, are long gone. Sandia’s Copperhead — a highly modified MiniSAR system mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — has been uncovering IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2009. Now, Sandia is transferring the technology to the U.S. Army to support combat military personnel, said Sandia senior manager Jim Hudgens.
A Sandia Lab release reports that the technology was developed with the Defense Department’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO); the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center/Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL); the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR); Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory; the Naval Research Laboratory; and Florida-based force protection company AIRSCAN.
Copperhead detects disturbances in the earth, for example, those made when IEDs are buried. It can find them day or night and in many weather conditions, including fog and dust storms. Extremely fine-resolution images are processed onboard UAVs and transmitted real-time to analysts on the ground. Those analysts pass the information to soldiers charged with destroying IEDs.