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NMSU Physical Science Laboratory helps put the ICE on explosives in Iraq

The greatest threat to American military personnel in Iraq has been what the U.S. Army calls IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. These makeshift bombs are often placed along roadways and triggered remotely using garage door openers, cell phones or other electronic signals.

Staff Sgt. Michael Keener inspects the installation of an ICE unit in a Marine Corps Humvee. (U.S. Army photo)

New signal-jamming equipment developed by New Mexico State University's Physical Science Laboratory in collaboration with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory is proving to be effective in defeating IEDs and saving soldiers' lives.

Known as ICE, for IED Countermeasure Equipment, the system was recognized recently as one of the U.S. Army's "Top Ten Greatest Inventions of 2004." Sharing the award in June were Sam Mares, PSL's lead engineer on the ICE project; Shane Cunico, the U.S. government lead engineer at White Sands Missile Range; and Maj. R.D. Pickering, who headed the team during its development.

All three are NMSU graduates, noted PSL Program Manager Joanne Esparza.

Motivated by the fact that more than half the deaths and injuries suffered by Americans in Iraq were being caused by IEDs, the team conceptualized and fielded the countermeasure device in a matter of months - an unusually short turnaround for new innovations. The design team consisted of several PSL employees who have worked on a variety of systems during their careers and therefore were able to design, fabricate and test the first prototype system in less than three weeks.

"Normally it takes years to develop a prototype, test, manufacture and field it," Pickering told the Army News Service in a recent interview. "The desire to get a product in the hands of our fighting forces immediately and prevent further casualties overcame the lengthy process."

That meant shortening the acquisition process and working "almost round the clock" at times, Esparza said. "A lot of long, hard hours went into the design, development and testing."

PSL started work on the design in November 2003 when the government asked for the lab's expertise in answering the new threat of remotely detonated explosives in Iraq. The team worked with a group of soldiers who had just returned from Iraq.

The countermeasure devices, about the size of a small microwave oven, are being used by the U.S. Army, U.S. Marines and the Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit. Several thousand of the systems are now either in the hands of U.S. military personnel or on their way.

PSL personnel manufactured some of the initial ICE units "to become familiar with the system," Esparza said, and they continue to do so at a low rate of production. Most units now are manufactured by Canberra Aquila and Delta Group Electronics of Albuquerque and Raytheon Technical Services Co. of Indianapolis.

The hardened design of the equipment allows it to withstand extreme conditions.

In describing its "Greatest Inventions of 2004," the Army said ICE "provides new and improved capability in terms of effective ranges, power levels and ease of use. ICE's unique design allows the warfighter to easily program operational threat parameters specific to the area of operation, resulting in increased survivability. ICE requires minimal user installation and maintenance training and imposes minimal logistical burden, allowing expanded utility for special operations."

For more information about the NMSU Physical Science Laboratory and its capabilities, visit http://www.psl.nmsu.edu.