Some 59 per cent of International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] casualties returning from Afghanistan have fallen victim to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

The statistics have been produced by NATO’s Consultation, Control and Command Agency (NC3A).

Effective counter-IED [C-IED] technology needs to be accurate, safe, and able to be operated in a difficult environment with as little disruption to the flow of logistics as possible. Scientists are constantly working on new C-IED equipment, with two British Dstl scientists being awarded OBEs in summer 2010 for their work in the field.

NATO is seeking to increase information sharing between countries on both technological advances in IED detection and neutralisation and the distribution of intelligence regarding the networks that finance and place the IEDs.

The NC3A provides research, technology and expertise to NATO missions, assisting in capability planning, cyber defence, exercises and training, surveillance and technology procurement, among others. They assist with NATO’s C-IED needs and projects – for example, recently implementing vehicle and pedestrian scanners at the entrance to Kandahar Air Base.

Dr Franco Fiore, principal scientist and counter-IED manager at NC3A, spoke to DMJ about NATO’s counter-IED initiatives, and how NC3A contribute to these efforts.

“NATO’s C-IED Action Plan highlights shortfalls in counter-IED, what action needs to be taken, and what are the resource implications of that,” says Fiore.

“NC3A’s role in counter-IED is to provide unbiased technical support to NATO nations and also provide troops on the ground with technical acquisition and technical support.”

All requirements go through follow the same trajectory from being requested through to being provided.

“ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) has an operational requirement, sends it to Joint Force Command for endorsement, ACO (Allied Command Operations) endorses and chooses a host nation who will take care of translating military requirement into a technical solution – when it comes to C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) assets, NC3A is the designated host nation.”

Counter-IED requests come from the people on the ground first of all, Dr Fiore insists, and NC3A work is towards a specific challenge that requires tackling – “we translate that capability shortfall into a technical solution for them”.

“What we also do is to support what is called the Conference of National Armaments Directors in the NATO Headquarters, with what is called the Defence Against Terrorism programme of work, in which we do testing of new technology. We do some research and development in the area and we try to evaluate from an unbiased perspective”. Not being linked to any particular industry, Fiore says, means that N3CA are best placed to suggest the procedures and equipment that will most aid those in action.

The C-IED Action Plan in general is “not another stovepipe”, Fiore says.

“Its work is very serious, not only in research and development but also technical support and acquisition support for NATO, NATO’s nations and the troops on the ground.”

In Afghanistan, the NC3A have divided the areas of C-IED support into three main areas; jammers against remote-controlled IEDs; vehicle, cargo and pedestrian scanners to detect vehicle-borne and suicide bomber IEDs; and surveillance technologies to improve intelligence on the sources of IEDs and pre-empt an attack. These three areas are “all that is needed to give the troops a means of protecting their own facilities against a possible and potential IED attack,” Fiore explains.

“These involve designing and placing the right sensor in the right place, [determining] “the number of sensors, which type of sensors, to make sure the troops get what they really need.”

Dr Fiore says that providing C-IED equipment in theatre, bmust be matched by effective training systems so that equipment is used correctly, safely and to its fullest potential.

One thing that is important, he argues, is not to give troops a “false sense of security”.

“Sometimes you may end up with a scenario where they think they have a technology and this technology is doing something, but either they cannot use it in the proper way, or they are not sure what the technology is and they misuse it. It is important to give them a good package of training to understand what the technology can do for them, and what are the limitations of the technology, so it is not really a ‘fire and forget’ thing.”

In 2010, NATO launched a multinational counter-IED project, aimed at cutting costs by removing duplication of effort, creating an economy of scale, and delivering joint procurement of C-IED technologies across nations.

At the time, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “Having multiple national projects running at the same time is not only a waste of time and money; it ultimately also puts the lives of our soldiers at risk”.

Dr Fiore and NC3A are enthusiastic about the future of the multinational C-IED endeavour, and they plan to encourage as many nations as possible to pool together their resources “in order to try and save costs and time'”.

“We pull these nations together, set them around a table and say ‘this is what NC3A can offer based on six years’ experience in the field, dealing with ISAF. We try to procure more assets for nations to get better cost savings for them. And based on our experience, we can fill those items in a very short time frame, because our procurement mechanism is well oiled now, because we have done it for several years.”

“It now depends on what the nations would like to do. We seek to have something with the nations under this multinational framework in the second half of 2011. In February or March we will start with these focus sessions on technologies with them, and hopefully we will get some interest from them and we can start procuring right away. Our procurement timelines for this type of asset are quite short – we think that within six months we can make sure that the requirements can be fulfilled.”