Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) continue to be the weapon of choice for adversary networks and this phenomenon is likely to continue for decades, either with the IED as the only threat or combined with others within a hybrid complex scenario. IEDs are fabricated in an improvised manner and designed to destroy property or incapacitate people and vehicles. The design of IEDs and the trigger systems used range from the ‘simple’ to the technologically developed. The production costs in general are low, and the components used include not only military ammunition like mines or artillery shells, but also commercially available substances and that can be combined to produce the so-called home-made explosives. Although already used for many decades in military and civil conflicts worldwide, the combination of its ease of use with its mediatic impact, will likely make IEDs an enduring threat to remain. The cumulative campaign effect of the use of IED remains capable of producing an asymmetric advantage for terrorists, insurgent/resistance movements and rogue elements, even against technologically superior conventional forces.
The European Defence Agency (EDA) has been working on Counter-IED since 2007, fostering the capability development in identified shortfalls, as well as carefully considering its adequate integration into the Counter-IED overarching framework, covering the full range of enabler capabilities to achieve the desired end state: the mitigation of IEDs in the battlefield.
EDA has been working on Counter-IED since 2007, fostering the support coalition forces in Afghanistan through a Technical Exploitation laboratory and supporting to the building up of broad Counter-IED capabilities in Europe. Currently EDA Counter-IED capabilities development is focused in the main lines of effort:
- Harmonize Counter-IED Capabilities and Requirements
- Enhance civil-military cooperation and a strengthened interagency approach
- Continued assessment of Counter-IED requirements cross functionally under new Concepts of Operations/threat environment.
The range of activities cover the large spectrum of Counter-IED enablers in multidomain (land, air and sea), as well as covering broadly the vectors of capability development, from knowledge to education and training, lessons learned, equipment and interoperability, as listed below:
- Military Search
- Route Clearance
- Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD)
- Manual Neutralization Techniques (MNT)
- Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and explosives (CBRNe)
- Technical Exploitation
- Counter Radio-controlled IED Electronic Warfare (CREW)
Research and technology activities are also integrated to the main lines of effort, seeking for close alignment between real operational requirements definition and the industry, technology and research institutes and organisations priorities.
Military Search (MS) is defined as the planning, management and application of systematic procedures and appropriate techniques to confirm the presence or absence of specified targets in support of the full spectrum of operations. In this particular area, after several successful activities/courses and Workshops held in Italy and Austria, covering the full spectrum of Military Search, including CBRN Improvised Devices Search, the Military Search Capability Building (MSCB) project was launched in 2019 by 8 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden).
The MSCB project establishes a shared common training and education platform in the full range of Military Search capabilities, fostering at the same time, the sharing of related information such as equipment, testing, lessons learned and/or best practices and tactics techniques and procedures. A yearly average of 5 courses are conducted under the project, as well as the deployment of Mobile Training Teams.
In the field of exploitation, the Joint Deployable Exploitation and Analysis Laboratory (JDEAL) is the most relevant project leading the area. JDEAL has inherited all relevant Lessons Learned from the worldwide recognised MNTEL project (2010/14) that deployed the first multinational technical exploitation level 2 facility in Afghanistan until mid-2014. Since November 2014 and under Dutch lead, the JDEAL is established in Soesterberg (NL). Find more information here
Also in the field of exploitation, an activity will be launched in late 2021 to address the Technical Exploitation of IED found in the Maritime Environment, which requires the collection and preservation of evidence in underwater conditions. This frames the Technical Exploitation Level 1 capability in the Maritime Environment.
Underwater conditions require specific methods for conducting the search, identification and collection of evidence phases. Divers’ mobility and current standard Weapons Intelligence Teams (WIT) equipment constitutes a limitation in the collection process underwater. Post blast analysis and weapons assessment underwater differs significantly from the corresponding analysis on land. Methods of evidence preservation when transferred from the underwater medium to the land medium, in order to maintain the chain of custody have not yet been studied and standardized, a sine qua non requirement for evidence to be accepted as such. All these shortfalls constitute an identified capability gap.
Concerning the areas of IED disposal and CBRNe, the main effort has been on the development of the Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) Manual Neutralization Techniques (MNT), a subset of the broader Explosive Ordnances Disposal (EOD) capabilities, being considered as the highest level of IEDD training and education.
Any EOD neutralization method incorporates some degree of likelihood of setting off the device, which means that, the risks and consequences of an eventual accidental explosion must be considered, even if its probability is considered low. MNT are the skills required to perform IEDD tasks when the level of consequences are not acceptable. Examples often refer to IEDs with CBRN payloads in urban terrain, IEDD in support of covert operations (SOF), IEDs attached to hostages or IEDD with high grade very sensitive Home-Made Explosives.
MNT were an identified shortfall in 2010 which has been addressed progressively since then and resulted in the current European Centre for Manual Neutralisation Techniques (ECMAN), under Austrian lead. Find more information here.
Overarching Counter-IED Exercise Bison Counter
Counter-IED is per definition a functional capability area, which synchronizes and coordinates enablers from the three classical domains (air, land, maritime) and all combat functions (with focus on Intelligence, Manoeuvre and Protection), with the aim of anticipating the use of IED (Attack the Network), rendering safe the IED threat (Defeat the Device) and mitigating the effects of the IED if it is not anticipated or defeated (Protect the Force). If we consider a systematic approach, Counter-IED is a system of enabler capabilities, that defines the overarching framework how the different enablers interact to achieve the desired end state: IEDs are not employed effectively in the battlefield.
As such, developing capabilities in the Counter-IED area does not suffice if the proper integration of enablers is not assured. The Bison Counter multinational live exercise series was initiated in 2013 to address this feature, growing further in its second edition in 2016 and currently delivering its third edition in 2021. The success of these exercises, which became the biggest and most complete multinational Counter-IED exercise in EU, paved the way for the follow-on project currently under development, which aims at establishing the framework for another 3 editions in 2023, 2025 and 2027.
The Bison Counter main objective is to fully integrate the high-end technical level training with the operational level Intel driven planning cycle. Thus, increasing Member States responsiveness and operational readiness in the area of Counter-IED. Find more information here
The area of stand-off detection of IEDs - the ability to detect IEDs from a safe distance without disturbance - is an identified shortfall in terms of operational requirements, as well as regards technology. This requirement has applications to wide set of operational areas in the Counter-IED area, being the mounted Route Clearance among those where the shortfall impact is the highest.
To address this, the R&T IED Detection Programme (IEDDET) was conducted from 2016 to 2020. The main objective of the programme was to develop, improve and field-test multisensory IED detection capabilities in order to better protect troops and increase Armed Forces’ operational freedom of movement. As a research and technology project it will contribute to the Future Route Clearance Capability (FRCC), although technologies or systems developed within the IEDDET programme could be applied for other scenarios.
The programme was composed of three projects, each of them addressing different phases of Route Clearance operations: Early warning, Stand-off detection and Confirmation & identification. A key goal was to improve overall performance by exchanging information between the three phases/systems:
- Vehicle Mounted Early Warning of Indirect Indicators of IEDs (VMEWI3) focused on detection of indirect indicators with forward looking camera systems. The technology demonstrator is based on a remotely operated unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) platform with a multi-camera head. The aim was to detect indicators of IED presence even while moving with a speed of at least 20-30 km/h (early warning capacity).
- UGV stand-off multi-sensor platform for IED component detection (MUSICODE) developed a new unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) with stand-off capabilities for detection of IED components by using remotely operated multisensory platforms.
- Confirmation, Identification and Airborne Early Warning of IEDs (CONFIDENT) integrated an element of chemical detection and two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) into the system, in order to confirm and identify relevant components of IEDs, including electronic parts, explosives and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) payloads.
The programme outcomes and technology demonstrators were successfully displayed in a live trial and final conference, in Austria in late 2020. The different projects resulted in different levels of applicability to operational purposes, and more research is still needed. Despite this, results will be used to support the definition of Common Staff Requirement for the FRCC and could also be used within the industry to further develop new Route Clearance capabilities.
A follow on R&T programme (IEDDET II) is in preparation to be launched in 2022 with the objective to further develop the stand-off detection and confirmation of IEDs including buried components in the near sides the route, as well as continue investigating the possibilities to improve detection performance at increased rate of advance, and lowering operator’s workload.
Another research project in the detection area was established in 2021 called Stand-off Detection Of Hybrid Threats Containing Explosives (STYX). Under the Swedish leadership Sweden, Germany and Italy will identify new sensors for fast stand-off detection of existing and new types of explosives embedded in IEDs and other explosive threats, covering both trace and bulk detection. Besides a technology survey of potential suitable technologies (e.g. Raman trace detection, NQR/EFNMR, SWIR/SORS, THz technologies, MIRS, Radar, …), it will also perform realistic test and evaluation of emerging detection techniques, in accordance with operational hybrid warfare scenarios. The expected outcomes should pave the way for future research and development of novel integrated detection technologies. Two other countries have confirmed interest and are expected to join in early 2022.
Find more information here: 19---styx---stand-off-detection-of-hybrid-threats-containing-explosives.pdf (europa.eu)
EDA has vast experience in organising pilot training activities. Among others, in cooperation with its Member States, specific activities ranging from homemade explosives, Military Working Dogs, post-blast investigation have been executed too.
C-IED related studies and applicable tools are part of the EDA Counter-IED portfolio. An upgrade of the Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Interagency Unclassified Situational Awareness Prediction Tool (C-IUSAT) was delivered by late 2019 as well as an IT tool able to replicate fictitious adversary networks for training purposes too.
As regards research and technology, keeping a comprehensive and broad understanding of its outputs is a key activity to drive the industry, technology and research priorities to a closer alignment with real operational requirements definition. That is the main purpose of the Smart Future Counter-IED Field Laboratory (SF C-IED FL) project, launched in 2020 by 7 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Slovenia), under the lead of The Netherlands. It is expected that the project promotes exchange of expertise between the technical Counter-IED field experts and the Counter-IED relevant industry.
The EDA Project Team (PT) Counter-IED is now led by Spain and continues to cooperate with all Counter-IED bodies such as the relevant Centres of Excellence, supporting also Counter terrorism efforts, focusing on capability development activities.
Two Capability Technology Areas (CapTech) areas, CapTech Land Systems and CapTech Missiles and Munitions contribute strongly to EDA Counter-IED efforts by undertaking the mentioned research & technology (R&T) activities.