Improvised explosive devices

  • Last updated: 12 Dec. 2018 16:30

An improvised explosive device (IED) is a type of unconventional explosive weapon that can take any form and be activated in a variety of ways. They target soldiers and civilians alike. In today’s conflicts, IEDs play an increasingly important role and will continue to be part of the operating environment for future NATO military operations. NATO must remain prepared to counter IEDs in any land or maritime operation involving asymmetrical threats, in which force protection will remain a paramount priority.


  • An IED is a type of unconventional explosive weapon that can take any form and be activated in a variety of ways. It kills soldiers and civilians alike.
  • NATO developed an action plan to detect and neutralise IEDs, to identify and disrupt the networks supporting this threat and to prepare and protect forces.
  • Current projects cover issues from detection capabilities to neutralisation, to minimising effect through protection of soldiers, platforms and installation devices. 

  • Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) Action Plan

    In 2010, NATO developed a C-IED Action Plan with three main focus areas: defeating the device (DtD) itself, attacking the network (AtN) and preparing the forces (PtF). With DtD, various branches within NATO look at how to detect and neutralise IEDs, exploit the IEDs as a source of information, prepare and train soldiers for an IED environment, develop technology to prevent IED attacks and protect soldiers and civilians.

    Neutralisation of IED may be the most visible part of the C-IED effort  but in order for it to be truly effective, it must be preceded by efforts to indentify and disrupt the networks emplacing, building and procuring IEDs. The Alliance focuses on reducing the frequency and severity of IED attacks, while also attacking the networks (AtN) that facilitate them. Understanding the various threat networks at the tactical to strategic levels is vital to success in current and future operations where battle lines are no longer linear.

    The C-IED Action Plan guides the Alliance’s efforts to reduce the effects of IEDs and acts as an umbrella for the coordination of the various actors involved in C-IED. It covers all levels of C-IED, from the strategic to the tactical.

    It is built around several different areas, including information-sharing, closer cooperation with other international organisations and law enforcement agencies., It also includes specialised training for troops deployed to areas where IEDs are widely used and improving equipment used to detect IEDs and protect troops.

    A revised version of the  Action Plan was approved by NATO in October 2013. The new Action Plan emphasises the need to institutionalise C-IED in the NATO Command and Force structures and to support nations' efforts in doing the same.. It also recognises the need to improve understanding and intelligence to support the main effort of the AtN pillar of C-IED capability in support of NATO operations. In this context, the use of biometric information is seen as a key element in countering threat anonymity. 

    ACT has the overall responsibility for monitoring the implementation of different aspects of the Action Plan and leverages the NATO C-IED Steering Group to coordinate and synchronise efforts across NATO Headquarters, Strategic Commands and other NATO bodies.

  • Equipment and technology

    IEDs can be hidden anywhere: on animals, planted in roads or strapped to a person. They can be detonated via cell phones or trip wires, among other methods. They can be deployed everywhere: in a combat environment or in the middle of a busy city. The adaptability of IEDs to almost any situation makes them difficult to detect and stop, which is why NATO members and partners are using several methods to increase counter IED capabilities.

    In line with the NATO Secretary General’s goal of promoting multinational cooperation in defence spending, the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) has identified 19 initiatives for multinational armaments cooperation in the fight against IEDs. These initiatives, such as joint acquisition of equipment, joint testing of new technology, technological research cooperation and development of common equipment standards, have been grouped into a C-IED Materiel Roadmap.

    The expert communities within NATO’s Air Force, Army and Naval Armaments Groups have a multitude of studies covering diverse issues from detection capabilities to neutralisation, to minimising effect through protection of soldiers, platforms and installation devices. These studies prompt information-sharing among Allies and partners, standards for effective C-IED in a coordinated and interoperable manner throughout operations, and many cooperative activities including Smart Defence initiatives. These efforts are closely supported by the NATO Industrial Advisory Group (NIAG) studies as well as work ongoing under the Science and Technology Organization (S&TO).

    The CNAD has also developed a Voluntary National Contribution Fund (VNCF) to support multinational projects in the C-IED Action Plan, such as pre-deployment training of Weapon Intelligence Teams. NATO members also have access to a Clearing House database, established to facilitate information-sharing on current and future C-IED equipment programmes and to help identify possible areas of cooperation.

    Additionally, NATO has several capability development projects within the Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work (DAT POW) that focus on developing sensors and information technology to detect IEDs. The DAT POW, a programme designed to identify and deliver short-term capability solutions, specifically includes a C-IED initiative. Among various actors supporting this initiative, the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) is taking the lead in testing various stand-off detection technologies. The C-IED Centre of Excellence in Spain is concentrating on collecting and sharing lessons learned, as well as researching explosively formed projectiles– this kind of IED allows insurgents to hit and destroy both light and heavy armoured vehicles at low cost and with poorly designed penetrators.

    For its part, the EOD Centre of Excellence in Slovakia is focusing on activities, technologies and procedures for IED “Render-Safe” operations in line with the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) initiative.

    Additional DAT POW C-IED projects focus on route clearance, building a NATO C-IED information-management tool or conducting table-top and live exercises to train troops in a high-threat IED environment. One such exercise is Northern Challenge, led by the Icelandic Coast Guard.  The aim of the exercise is to provide a unique training opportunity for IED teams serving in, or being deployed to, international missions.

    NATO, in cooperation with NCI Agency, helps to coordinate and execute the joint acquisition of C-IED capabilities through a common-funded system or nationally provided funds. NCI Agency analyses emerging technology in an operational environment and conducts research and experimentation in response to the Alliance’s urgent requirements.

  • Information-sharing and intelligence

    NATO’s initial C-IED efforts were on detecting and neutralising IEDs. They focused on protecting troops against the device by adapting equipment and personal protection, which also led to changes in pre-mission training to include IED disposal. However, C-IED work is not just about detection and neutralisation, but also about addressing the networks behind the IEDs. In line with this, NATO utilises both military and civilian means in the fight against IEDs.

    Information-sharing between international and national law enforcement agencies, as well as border and customs agencies, is instrumental in mapping adversary networks. NATO also trains its troops on how to interact with civilians during deployment. The information provided by civilians who know the area can be instrumental in preventing IED attacks.

  • Education and training

    NATO forces undergo pre-deployment training to prepare them for operations in an IED environment. They also receive further instruction in-theatre to update their training and deal with regional challenges. NATO, with Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in the lead, also focuses on decreasing the gaps between countries in training, standardization and doctrine development regarding C-IED.

    One of the most important aspects of C-IED training is being able to stop networks before emplacement of IEDs, recognise IEDs and safely disable them before they injure or kill troops and civilians. In line with this, several C-IED training programmes are offered by the C-IED Center of Excellence, including a Staff Officer Awareness Course, an Attack the Network Tactical Awareness Course, a Weapons Intelligence Team Course and a C-IED Train the Trainer Course.

    Several Centres of Excellence (COEs) also offer specialised courses and training useful for an IED environment. The C-IED COE in Madrid, Spain offers multinational courses for C-IED experts to help countries counter, reduce and eliminate threats from IEDs. The Centre can also provide a wide range of subject-matter experts to train and educate national and international forces to conduct C-IED operations. The C-IED COE, in cooperation with the private sector, also focuses on AtN.

    The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) COE in Trenčín, Slovakia concentrates on DtD. Centre It improves the capabilities of EOD specialists called upon to neutralise IEDs by providing training and expertise in the field of explosive ordnance detection, neutralisation and disposal. In addition to training, the EOD COE also focuses on standardization and doctrine development and developing capabilities for EOD and IED technology improvements.

    Due to their related fields of specialisations, the EOD COE and the C-IED COE cooperate closely. The COEs also have close links with others that specialise in areas that add to the field of countering IEDs, including the Military Engineering (MILENG) COE in Ingolstadt, Germany, the Defence Against Terrorism (DAT) COE in Ankara, Turkey, the Military Medical (MILMED) COE in Budapest, Hungary, and the Human Intelligence (HUMINT) COE in Oradea, Romania.