Lessons to be learned
Even though it is too early to draw final operational conclusions from BISON COUNTER 21 - this important follow-on part of the exercise will only be completed by February 2022 - the overall initial assessment of the achievements is more than positive. In other words: the exercise clearly delivered on its main objectives. “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 and am confident that the lessons we will identify from Bison Counter 21 will be useful in planning and conducting future similar events”, concludes General Filippo Gabriele, the Italian General overseeing and directing the exercise.
Immediate reactions from participants were overwhelmingly positive. “Exercises such as BISON COUNTER are the only way for Member States’ C-IED teams work and train together on the ground, exchange their best practices, merge their capabilities and develop joint standards. At home, we don’t have the possibility to do that in a multinational context”, said Captain Christian Berger, Austrian C-IED Commander.
Which does not mean that some aspects could not be further improved in the future. “I think that the coordination between the different working levels involved in the exercise - strategic, tactical, operational - could be further improved to better take into account the specific challenges, needs and requirements of the people that actually do the job on the ground. This is particularly important because those boots on the ground are highly specialised. Therefore, they need to be heard”, explains Captain Berger.
“There is always room for improvement”, adds Corporal Julian Tellez Mutis, Commander of the Spanish K9 (dog) team at BISON COUNTER 21. “For instance, during our training sessions with the dogs, we could try to have even more samples of explosives available and tested during the exercise. It would be good if we could further broaden up the range of materials that we use in the trainings, including new types of samples not yet known to everyone. The more we use and train, the better”.
EDA to play a leading role in future exercises
As it was the case in the two previous editions, EDA was closely involved in the organisation and running of BISON COUNTER 21 which had integrated several Agency projects such as the afore-mentioned JDEAL and ECMAN, but also 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, beginning of 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”, says Pedro Basto, EDA’s C-IED Project Officer.
Having the exercise prepared and organised under EDA auspices “will help to even further streamline our work and move towards commons standards”, anticipates Major Pennisi from JDEAL. It should also help mitigate minor communication issues between the different working levels operating in multination C-IED missions, as previously mentioned by Austrian Captain Berger. “The fact that BISON COUNTER is going to be a proper EDA project, and therefore become more structured and centralised, can certainly help to improve this communication with the operational people on the ground”, he says.
Finally, the envisaged 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.