Nestled in the quiet belt of pine trees surrounding the central Dutch town of Soesterberg, JDEAL’s setting may be serene but the subject matter it deals with is not: improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and how to counter them. JDEAL’s infrastructure, equipment and, above all, the expertise of its staff are devoted to helping Europe’s militaries detect, analyse, trace and train against these homemade weapons, which can range from simple but deadly mixtures of readily available commercial ingredients to bombs that incorporate high-grade military components.
Teaching the art of C-IED
“To put it plainly, JDEAL is testament that the pooling-and-sharing formula works,” said Paco Cifuentes, EDA’s project officer for counter-IEDs. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t have trained so many people from so different countries across all the tasks involved.”
Currently supported by 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden), the site has instructed more than 700 operators since 2015 in various level of expertise, from basic C-IED operational training to highly specialised forensic techniques.
JDEAL sprang from the head of a previous EDA endeavour known as the Multinational Theatre Exploitation Laboratory Demonstrator (MNTEL), which was deployed in 2011 to provide C-IED support to NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan. After four years of in-theatre service, the lab was dismantled and transferred to the Netherlands, which took on the lead-nation task of ensuring that MNTEL’s accumulated experience and C-IED documentation was not lost, by carrying it over into a new iteration.
That became JDEAL, which got off the ground as a three-year pilot project in 2014. Its activity was extended with a renewed “Phase 2” mandate in 2017, which now runs until in 2021.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll get a more permanent Phase 3 footing after that,” Major Francesco Martinotti, JDEAL’s training branch chief, told European Defence Matters during a site visit to JDEAL in spring 2020. “Phase 3 would mean, among other things, making our permanent staff more robust. We are currently undermanned with only four full-timers. We need 18.”
And the reason? “Because of growing demand,” he said.
Currently, JDEAL runs two-to-three basic courses per year to orient previously qualified operators, and half a dozen special courses annually to qualify operators in specific functional areas, in addition to other courses. These dive into techniques such as instructing non-qualified operators how to extract biometrics from IED devices, materials, artifacts and traces, or how to analyse circuit-boards and electronics or how to take forensic-oriented photographs of evidence.