Improvised explosive devices target of student study

University Park, Pa. — Students in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) are targeting improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a major threat in Iraq, in a study under the supervision of Jake Graham, IST senior research associate.

According to Graham, a retired Marine Corps colonel and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 11 student volunteers are delving into the "IED continuum," an ever-evolving cycle leading to development and use of these weapons.

Results of this special project, expected at the end of spring semester 2009, may spark future research by the IST-based Center for Network-centric Cognition and Information Fusion and the Penn State International Center for the Study of Terrorism. For students, there are immediate benefits.

“This is going to hone their skills in research, hone their skills in analytics, and is going to give them a really good appreciation of this problem set,” according to Graham, who said the work is similar in nature to that of two courses he teaches.

Noting that there are two Marine reservists on the student research team, he added, “They may be able to take some of their knowledge into the field.”

Sophomore Jessica Newlen, an information sciences and technology major and security and risk analysis minor, said she is looking forward to learning more about the motivations and the tactics used by terrorists. Her specific task in the project is to look closely at how IED attacks are executed and the specific tactics used. That, she indicated, could provide important clues on how better to defend against these attacks.

The project came about, Graham explained, following success in September by IST students in examining potential threats to U.S. military assets in an exercise called “Commercial Hunter” for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va.—Newlen was one of those taking part in that exercise.

Following the Quantico experience, Graham said, students approached him with an interest in pursuing more projects in a similar vein. At the time, he had been developing an IED-focused class project and that dovetailed with new faculty research interests.

These weapons have accounted for a significant number of American and Iraqi casualties nearly from the day organized resistance by Saddam Hussein’s military ended and sectarian and guerrilla warfare began. The weapons used have changed from repurposed Iraqi munitions to the rise today in the use of “sticky bombs,” as recently reported in the New York Times. The nimbleness of the enemy has posed ongoing problems for troops and friendly forces needing to protect themselves.
Graham said he hopes the student team will be able to “map” attacks that have occurred and do forensic reconstructions of the process leading up to them, including their command and control aspects.

He said the student project may uncover knowledge gaps concerning the higher-level strategies of terrorist fighters and leaders, gaps which may lead to research opportunities for the Center for Network-centric Cognition and Information Fusion and the International Center for the Study of Terrorism.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009