Demonstration of unique counter-IED analysis laboratory at NATO Headquarters

  • 14 Dec. 2016 -
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  • Last updated: 15 Dec. 2016 09:57

In Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are among the main causes of military and civilian casualties. To counter this type of threat, France has created a counter-IED analysis laboratory.

On 13 December 2016, over 100 counter-IED experts from NATO member and partner countries attended a demonstration of the French Counter-IED Exploitation Laboratory (CIEL) at NATO Headquarters.

The laboratory is the kind of equipment that could plug a capability gap for the member and partner countries in the short term by providing means of analysing the threat and thereby supporting national forces.

"The CIEL laboratory is unique and meets the needs of those in the field perfectly," says Jamie Shea, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges. "It's easy to deploy, flexible and modular. This type of capability will help give the armed forces a technological edge and better meet the challenges we face."

Identifying and defeating networks

An IED is an unconventional explosive weapon that can take any shape and be activated in various ways. Their adaptability to almost any situation makes them hard to detect and neutralise.

IEDs are also increasingly sophisticated, while remaining easy to obtain and cheap. Most of their components can either be bought on the open market (such as electronic components and chemical fertilisers) or are easy to obtain through smuggling, criminal networks or corruption.

"That's why countering this threat involves not just neutralising the explosive device but above all identifying and defeating the networks that make, procure and plant IEDs," explains Françoise Perret, who is dealing with NATO's Defence Against Terrorism work programme in the Counter-Terrorism Section of the Emerging Security Challenges Division. To achieve that end, intelligence and information analysis are crucial. 

A compact and rapidly deployable laboratory

CIEL during its first deployment in Mali

"The CIEL laboratory was designed with the dual objective of protecting forces by adapting our tactics through analysis of evidence found in operational searches or of IED remnants after an explosion, and attacking the networks by identifying those who made and planted the device, through forensic analysis and DNA sampling," explains Lieutenant-Colonel Charles, Director of Research, Analysis and Information Management, Joint Munitions and Explosive Device (MUNEX) Threat Processing Unit, French Ministry of Defence.

CIEL consists of five specialists who each conduct investigations in their area of expertise: chemistry, electronics, forensics and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).  It also has hi-tech, light and transportable analysis equipment designed to be deployable at very short notice if needed in an external theatre of operations. "The laboratory takes up only 1 m3, or the equivalent of eight boxes, weighs only 300 kg and can be deployed in under an hour," adds Lieutenant-Colonel Charles.

An interoperable database accessible in real time

The laboratory is supported by a unique database containing over 60,000 events, i.e. devices that have already exploded or have been discovered in the field.  "One of the functions that really interests our NATO partners is the software's ability to predict events that could occur in the future," says Lieutenant-Colonel Charles. "It can identify places where a threat may arise.  We have been able to test it successfully in Mali," he adds. The database meets NATO interoperability standards and can be shared and enriched by NATO member states, in real time.

CIEL is a product of France's experience in Afghanistan and was successfully deployed in Mali in 2015.  It was also tested during exercise “Citadel Kléber 2015" with a view to NATO certification of the French Allied Rapid Reaction Corps Headquarters, which will enable France to lead the NATO Response Force (Land Component) in 2017.  Similar developments are underway in the maritime domain.