Washington Babylon — October 2, 2007, 5:44 pm

The JIN Debacle: Still a few kinks to work out

Earlier this year I wrote a story about the Joint IED Neutralizer (JIN), a device intended to destroy roadside bombs. The JIN is built by an Arizona-based company called Ionatron—a firm created out of the shell of a bankrupt lawn-care company—and is supposed to zap IEDs with a massive jolt of “man-made lightning.” As I noted, Ionatron, which hires all the right lobbyists and makes ample political contributions, has received millions in taxpayer money for the JIN, though the device has never been proven effective.

Now go read the terrific article on the JIN in today’s Washington Post. “On April 30, 2005, [Paul] Wolfowitz signed a memorandum that called for funneling $30 million into JIN as a countermeasure with the potential to ‘dramatically alter the balance of power on IEDs,’ the Post reports. “Bold claims began to circulate in Arizona. ‘This will save lives the minute it gets’ to Iraq, said Thomas C. Dearmin, Ionatron’s chief executive, according to the Journal of Electronic Defense. ‘If you get enough of these out there, you will eliminate the IED as we know it’.”

The JIN never did make it to Iraq–military commanders were so unimpressed with its performance during testing that they refused to accept it—but it did get sent over the Afghanistan. For 45 days, with help from an Ionatron technical team, JIN was tested in the Pech River Valley in northeast Afghanistan. At one point, three senior officers said, the kill switch failed and the device continued to fire bolts of electricity. Steep mountain terrain and poor roads also proved difficult; one JIN rolled downhill and flipped over, the officers reported. Last spring, Col. Chuck Waggoner, commander of Task Force Paladin, the counter-IED unit at Bagram Air Base, ordered that the tests be stopped. “We’re shipping this thing out of theater,” he said.

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