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Witnesses Tell Congress of Efforts|to Combat Effects of Road Bombs

WASHINGTON (CN) - After spending $19 billion to fight roadside bombs, casualties from improvised explosive devices continue to rise in Afghanistan. Witnesses told legislators Wednesday how the military is trying to combat the devastating effect of the bombs with new mine-resistant vehicles and sophisticated mine detection methods. Even if a car protects passengers from the force of a blast, it can twist a fighter's head to inflict spinal damage, and cause the skull and the slower-moving brain to collide. "No helmet is able to protect against that," Brigadier Gen. Michael Brogan said.

Brogan said the military should look into better seating and restraining systems. He addressed members of the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee and the Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.

IEDs that ignite under a vehicle toss it into the air, and even if the blast itself does not injure the soldiers, the crash back to ground can.

Soldiers who survive the first impact have to endure the impact of the vehicle hitting the ground. While it is still violent, the impact of crashing is softer than the first, and energy-absorbing seats are designed to take some of the brunt.

Roadside bombs have proven an effective weapon for insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States has spent $19 billion to protect its roughly 190,000 troops there against the devices and it is prepared to spend another $3.4 billion next fiscal year, representing a 21 percent boost from this year.

But as American forces thicken their armor, insurgents have scaled-up their roadside bombs, Washington Democrat Adam Smith said as chair of the Land Forces Subcommittee.

While Smith noted that I.E.D. use has decreased "dramatically" in Iraq over the past year, Lieutenant General Michael Oates said its use is on the rise in Afghanistan and that associated casualties there have increased by roughly 50 percent over the last three years.

Mississippi Democrat Gene Taylor, chair of the seapower subcommittee, asked if the military could use satellites to search for the bombs, noting that satellites are sophisticated enough to detect if a tree is under water-stress just from its shade of green.

Oates said he'd have to answer the question in private and said only that good technology is set to be implemented soon.

The military has also recently ordered more than 5,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles (M-ATV) at a cost of more than $3 billion when production began in 2009. They are lighter than other mine-resistant and ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles.

Taylor said the vehicles are showing promise and demonstrate that the nation is capable of applying lessons learned.

But Oates said the tank-like Strykers are more capable of going off-road than MRAPs, are very quiet and very survivable. Off-road capability is important when avoiding mines.

California Republican Duncan Hunter urged persistence in finding a solution to the bombs, and said it will be a problem in future wars. "The enemy knows how to get to us now," he said. "It's I.E.D.s."

Under pressure from the United States, the Afghan government outlawed ammonium nitrate just over a month ago. Colorado Republican Mike Coffman said that 90 percent of the chemical in Afghanistan is put into roadside bombs.

But Oates downplayed the benefit of the law, saying the insurgents are adaptive. "It's not going to close out their options," he said. With only a month since the law's implementation, its effect has yet to be gauged.

In its constant effort to better adapt to the new methods of war, the military is also trying to lighten the roughly 100 pound package of equipment that its fighters have to soldier. Modern warfare has more than doubled the average pack weight from the Vietnam War era, when fighters carried between 30 and 40 pounds.

"We try not to treat them like a Christmas tree and just hang things on," Brigadier General Peter Fuller said, and told the committee that it has already decreased the weight of the machine guns and has redistributed the weight to rest more on the hips and less on the shoulders of troops.

Fuller said the military is hunting for lighter body armor. "We're looking for a new technology," he said. And Brogan noted that he even inquired with NASA about the shielding it uses to protect its satellites from colliding space junk, but he determined that it doesn't stop bullets.

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