We Asked an Expert How to Disarm Improvised Explosive Devices

We Asked an Expert How They Kill Bombs

by Charlie Braithwaite
Jan 13 2016, 12:00am

The Israeli Defense Force examines pipe bombs found in Nablus. Image via Israel Defense Forces Flickr

It's a sad state of affairs. The planet has a lot people putting a lot of effort into building rudimentary bombs out of military artillery, ammunition, and even just plain old fireworks. As you probably know, these bombs are called Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, and they're what most DIY terrorists and insurgents use to wreak havoc on their enemies.

On the upside there are a lot of people who have devoted their careers to disarming these bastards. To find out more on how exactly one goes about that without getting exploded, I spoke to a guy named Noam Kaiser.

Kaiser is a major in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) where he's previously served as a brigade operations officer in the armored corps. This role involved disarming any IEDs his brigade came across. He's worked in Golan Heights, Syria, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and South Lebanon.

Noam Kaiser is on the right. Image courtesy of Charlie

VICE: What do IEDs usually look like?
Noam Kaiser
: They're not very elaborate in most cases. We're not talking about the things you see in movies with switches, watches, red wires, or blue wires. In most cases they're just an artillery shell connected to something like a trip wire, which is supposed to be triggered by infantry or vehicles that go by. I've never come across anything with a time device, because it doesn't make sense. They mostly don't know when you're going to be near, so you don't see that clock ticking backwards.

In more elaborate cases you're talking about a shell with a radio attached to it. This could be a mobile phone, so when you ring it the bomb triggers. Or simply some sort of remote they rig out of a toy car. They take the device out of the toy car, attach it to a trigger on a mortar shell, and use the regular remote from the toy to detonate it.

What happens when you first discover an IED?
The assumption is that when you discover an IED, once it's triggered, it's the start of something else. It's either to inflict damage on the convoy or a patrol, or it's the trigger to signal the beginning of an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) attack.

The first thing to do is to not fall into that trap. In most cases if you have a direct shot the preferable thing is to stand back and take it out with a tank shell. But if there is no way to safely take a shot, then you have to dismantle it.

How do you dismantle an IED?
Trip-wired devices are a bit simpler. The IED itself is usually positioned on one side of the road with the wire pulled across and attached to something else. If you can remove the wire and take it toward the IED, it won't detonate. That is the basic removal of an IED with a wire trigger. You just release the wire and take it back to the IED.

Here's some particularly insane footage of an IED erupting through a bitumen road in Iraq.

How do you dispose of the device once you've taken off the wire?
In nearly all cases we dispose of IEDs by initiating a counter explosion. You use some sort of plastic explosive, like C4, which you position over the IED with a device that looks like a four or three-legged spider. You attach the C4 to create an explosion that comes from above, so the device initiates downwards. If you initiate the explosion from above the device will explode downwards and earthbound, not peripherally so it can hurt people.

If you don't use enough explosive you'll make the IED even less stable and it can be triggered at any minute. In those cases just getting close is dangerous. I would typically add more C4 to be safe, so if I was supposed to use one block, I'd use three. We're not very economical with these things. I definitely didn't save the IDF any money when I was in charge.

Was there ever a time when you didn't use enough?
Sort of. The scariest thing I've ever had to do was when somebody threw a grenade and it didn't explode. I had to lie face to face with a live grenade in front of me, it could have gone off at any second. Here's a great example for wasting C4—half a block would have been enough. I used four.

I don't think about home, or family. I only think about the step I'm on and the one that comes next.

What are the odds of surviving if an IED explodes in front of you?
The odds are not actually so bad. I use a light coverage suit, which includes a Kevlar vest, a mask, and a pair of Nomex gloves, which prevent burns. Again, differentiating from the movies, weaponized explosives don't produce those mushroom cloud explosions. You just get a lot of concussion and shrapnel.

Is concussion the most dangerous aspect?
Absolutely. Even with the suit, concussion injuries, which are internal and have nothing to do with fire or shrapnel, still get you. You have to approach very low so that if it does explode the concussion will mostly go over your head.

What is going through your mind when you are dealing with an IED?
Nothing dramatic, actually. I don't think about home, or family. I only think about the step I'm on and the one that comes next. I'm not saying I don't get scared, that would be stupid. I'm just very aware of what I'm doing at each point. The time to realize what you've done comes later. That's when it's time for a cigarette. Even if you don't smoke, it's a good time for a cigarette.

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