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. 

Growing demand

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. 

 
JDEAL-laboratory-(copy-JDEAL)

In total, JDEAL delivers around 24 weeks of training activities each year. But more is needed, according to Martinotti, who pointed to the fact that many nations are starting to set up their own C-IED structures, and thus seek more advanced training. 

“You might need a succession of three 20-man C-IED teams to meet a military’s rotational schedule. With more JDEAL personnel here we could, for example, provide chemical specialists from across Europe’s armies with the ability to apply a standard protocol [i.e., exact technical approach] for analysing homemade explosives in a safe way,” he said. 

Martinotti and team aim to launch JDEAL’s first “Chemical Exploitation of Explosives” course in September, in fact, which would be followed by another new course in October on forensic photography. 

 

New threats, new courses

JDEAL’s training curriculum is also expanding to include the hot topic of drone forensics. “The threat of IED-bearing drones is an obvious one, and there’s growing demand about how to counter or analyse them,” observed Cifuentes, adding that JDEAL plans to offer a five-day course specifically oriented to exploit recovered drones regarding their media and electronics components, GPS modules and other operational aspects. However, this and other courses depend to a certain extent on how the current Covid-19 pandemic affects travel in the future. 

JDEAL’s specialised training in C-IED forensics is wide, spanning the entire network of IED forensic research and investigation, from chemical and electronic analysis to photographic, document and media analysis, all the way through to evidence custody. These are expressed both intellectually in JDEAL’s training curricula, and physically in the form of a joint deployable capabilities (JDC). 

Two labs ready to deploy

Indeed, what makes JDEAL unique is not just its common training approach for participating Member States, but also its research and knowledge base and, crucially, its stand-by deployable C-IED laboratories. All three complement each other, with JDEAL’s pre-deployment and set-up courses designed, for example, to prepare experts to head out with a JDC. 

JDEAL’s stand-by deployable capabilities are stored in an anonymous-looking but sizeable warehouse sitting aside a small road in the woods. Inside are shelves of pre-stocked supplies and parts at one end and, dominating most of the single interior space, all the modular kit and housing needed to deploy a C-IED laboratory to the field: tents and climate-control systems, power generators, forensic equipment and standard shipping containers. 

The warehouse is stocked to enable the rapid deployment of two fully operational Level 2 C-IED exploitation laboratories, which can be tailored to a specific mission in terms of size, capability and staffing needs. These can be ready to deploy with five days’ notice, including spare mission-essential equipment and consumables. The JDCs have been deployed, in both their smaller tent- and container configurations, to national, multinational, European and NATO exercises on both sides of the Atlantic since 2015, for example. 

Pulling in the same direction 

C-IED capability is not just about cutting-edge equipment or training, however. Good forensics hygiene demands interoperability of technique, equipment, knowledge and especially procedures. Getting all forensics operators working from the same page will save lives. 

“We have an SOP [standard operating procedure] for everything that enters and leaves the laboratory. You get the manual to equip your lab, how to run it and how to extract the best forensic results,” said Cifuentes. “This is internationally recognised, and one more proof that the pooling-and-sharing formula works to everyone’s advantage.”

The European Centre for Manual Neutralisation Capabilities (ECMAN) is another fruit of EDA’s pioneer work in the C-IED field. Hosted by the Austrian Armed Forces’ Logistics School in Vienna since February 2018, ECMAN grew out of the Agency’s previous Programme on Manual Neutralisation Techniques Courses and Exercises (MNT C&E), which ran from 2014 to 2018. To date, seven Member States support the Centre: Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Italy, and Sweden.

Manual neutralisation techniques represent the most advanced IED disposal skills. They enable experienced, specially trained operators to access, diagnose, and manually dispose of IEDs and other hazardous material.

These tactics and techniques are used when the application of normal explosive ordnance procedures or energetic weapons are deemed inappropriate. Manual IED neutralisation is thus the last, and particularly dangerous, resort when other approaches fall short of what must be done – hence the need for proficiency training and exercises.

ECMAN helps its participating Member States develop and share expertise and best practices in this critical domain through joint education and training sessions. These range from developing doctrine and equipment to testing and concept validation to practical exercises.

The Centre has both permanent and non-permanent staff from the participating countries based at its premises in Vienna.
 

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