BISON COUNTER 21, the EDA-supported multinational Counter-IED exercise hosted this year by the Italian Armed Forces in Sardinia, has entered its final stretch with the live exercise drawing to a close today. The event will formally come to an end on 9 November with a Distinguished Visitors Day. Over the past three weeks, Counter-IED teams - in total some 650 staff - from 10 EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden), as well as Norway and the United States participated in what is today the largest and most relevant EU exercise of the C-IED community.
The live part of the exercise saw a wide range of multinational expert teams plan, decide and perform all types of C-IED activities on the ground, based on a fictive but realistic exercise scenario featuring all the ingredients and challenges any national or multinational military operation (EU, NATO, UN, etc.) faces today under real circumstances. All C-IED aspects were involved and represented, from planning in joint task force headquarters , military search, route clearance and weapons intelligence, to combat engineering, Explosive Ordnance Disposal/Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (EOD/IEDD), manual neutralisation techniques and technical exploitation. They were all organised inside one specific multinational C-IED taskforce.
Even though it is too early to draw final operational conclusions from BISON COUNTER 21 - this important part of the exercise will be tackled only in the coming days and weeks - the overall initial assessment of the achievements is more than positive. In other words: BISON COUNTER 21 has clearly delivered on its main objectives which were to exchange and train technical skills, integrate and use available technical enablers at a tactical level and implement the full C-IED operational cycle with a view to improving interoperability and resilience among European and allied C-IED capabilities in their fight against evolving IED threats, both in military and counter-terrorism operations.
“We were happy and proud to act as the host nation of this important exercise for the entire European military community. I think we were successful in delivering a realistic scenario in the way we structured and organised the exercise and in the manner we used the multiple military areas available in Southern Sardinia. We are confident that the lessons we will identify from Bison Counter 21 will be useful in planning and conducting future similar events”, said General Filippo Gabriele, the Italian officer directing the exercise.
EDA to play a leading role in future exercises
As it was the case in previous editions of the exercise (2013 in the Netherlands, 2016 in Sweden), EDA was closely involved in the organisation and running of BISON COUNTER 21 which had integrated several Agency projects such as the Joint Deployable Exploitation and Analysis Laboratory (JDEAL), the European Centre for Manual Neutralisation Capabilities (ECMAN) and the Military Search Capability Building (MSCB).
Going forward, EDA’s role will be even bigger as it is the Agency’s ambition to pursue the series of Bison Counter exercises beyond the 2021 edition in a more structured, comprehensive and coherent manner. An important step in that direction will be the launch, early 2022 by 13 Member States, of a new EDA project (Cat B) which foresees at least three additional editions of Bison Counter in 2023, 2025 and 2027. The project will also establish a permanent expert team in charge of the planning of the exercises and its subsidiary activities, both at the conceptual and technical level. This means that the joint planning and organisation of future BISON COUNTER exercises will become more centralised and structured under EDA’s auspices in close cooperation, of course, with the future host countries. As a result, this should further enhance the coordination and coherence among all participating C-IED actors at all different levels, from strategy to tactics to operations. Such a more structured approach should also help to better analyse the exercise results and implement a consolidated lessons learned cycle which is essential for moving towards even more sophisticated and interoperable C-IED capabilities in Europe.