European Defence Agency’s C-IED Exercise BISON COUNTER.

BISON COUNTER, the largest and most relevant European Counter Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) exercise, will in the future be organised directly under the auspices of EDA instead of only benefitting from the Agency’s support, as in the past. To that end, a new EDA ‘Cat B’ project – the BISON COUNTER C-IED Exercises Capability Building (BC-EX) project – has been launched by 13 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia, as well as Norway) at a kick-off meeting in Madrid in June 2022. The new project, steered by the Agency’s Project Team Counter-IED (PT C-IED) will provide the framework for three additional editions of BISON COUNTER in 2023, 2025 and 2027.

The BC-EX project will 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.

Building upon the reflections and observations collected during past BISON COUNTER exercises as well as on experiences made by Member States in other relevant multinational C-IED exercises, the BC-EX kick-off meeting marked the launch of the planning phase of BISON COUNTER 23 (BC23), which will be held in November 2023 under the auspices of Spain which, as the lead nation for the project until the end of next year, will host this event.

The meeting in Madrid also decided the activation of the afore-mentioned permanent expert team constituted of subject matter experts from all contributing Member States, as well as other relevant C-IED organisations, such as the NATO accredited C-IED Center of Excellence (CoE) based in Madrid. This team will act as the main project interface with the host nation’s Exercise Planning Team, supporting the planning and preparation of the exercises as well as all its subsidiary activities, both at the conceptual and technical level. The establishment of this expert team will provide a more structured approach and a continuity element for the upcoming exercises.

BISON COUNTER is a series of live multinational exercises covering all C-IED enabler capabilities. Its objective is to train the technical level skills, to integrate the technical enablers at the tactical level and to implement the full C-IED operational cycle. The desired end state is a more coherent, interoperable and resilient European Union, when facing the ever-evolving IED threat, both on expeditionary military operations and in the context of countering terrorism within its borders.

The BC-EX kick-off meeting in Madrid was held back-to-back with the 31st PT C-IED meeting, held on 07/08 June. This EDA working body is responsible for the inception of collaborative project proposals aiming to close the capability gaps identified by the EU Capability Development Plan (CDP) priority ‘Develop C-IED and CBRNe Capabilities Based on Newly Available Technology and Training’ (Ground Combat Capabilities – Enhance Protection of Forces).

The project team has been responsible for a wide range of projects and activities. There are currently five in its portfolio: Joint Deployable, Exploitation and Analysis Laboratory (JDEAL), European Center for Manual Neutralization Techniques (ECMAN), Military Search Capability Building (MSCB), Smart Future Counter-IED Field Laboratory (SF C-IED FL) and C-IED Technical Exploitation in Maritime Environment (C-IED TEXMAR).  

The capabilities developed and delivered under these projects are extensively integrated into the BISON COUNTER exercises, building consistency across EDA participating Member States’ specific efforts in this capability area.

During the latest PT C-IED Meeting, new business cases for future projects were presented and discussed. The meeting was attended by 33 representatives from 11 participating Member States, as well as the NATO accredited C-IED CoE and EUROPOL.

Royal Navy divers joined NATO allies in Lithuania for a two-week workout dealing with the latest bomb and mine threats.

Delta Diving Unit from the Diving & Threat Exploitation Group (DTXG) based on Horsea Island in Portsmouth, taught and practised identifying – and neutralising – a range of explosive devices in the water and ashore.

Alongside their Canadian, Lithuanian, US, Dutch and Estonian counterparts, the divers were put through their paces in a number of real-world scenarios. Both on land and at sea, they trained in responding to and disarming improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and conducting explosive ordnance disposal safely.

They also scoured ports for historic ordnance from previous conflicts. The Baltic coastline was the scene of intense fighting in both World Wars, but especially in 1944-45.

Delta Diving Unit split their time in Lithuania for Exercise OPEN SPIRIT from land-based threats to sub-surface and on the water threats. They used robots and autonomous vessels to aid with their operations including Remus – a torpedo-shaped submersible which can survey and map possible ordnance.

The exercises were conducted as real-to-life as possible with IEDs made using everyday materials – reflecting what the divers could face on operations – then planted at possible places of interest around Klaipeda.

For the divers, Exercise OPEN SPIRIT gave them a range of experiences and a chance to showcase their skills. The Diving & Threat Exploitation Group have undergone a recent change to their way of operating and their training in Lithuania will ensure they are prepared for future missions.

Commander Sean Heaton, commanding officer of DTXG, said: “The relevance of what the Royal Navy and our NATO partners have been doing here in Lithuania, could not be clearer.

“Putting Royal Navy Bomb and Mine Disposal Divers from the Diving & Threat Exploitation Group, through these challenging scenarios ensures we are operationally prepared, and able to respond with agility to any threat to UK and NATO interests.”

Image: NATO forces taking part in BISON COUNTER. (Italian Forces) RN Divers join NATO bomb and mine disposal exercises.