Of all the weapons deployed by terrorists the improvised explosive device (IED) is the most effective, causing more combat casualties than any other method of attack in Afghanistan.

NATO Exploitation Level Two for C-IED requires intermediate processing of information in theatre for investigation of IED events. This implies a forward deployed asset with sufficient capacity to deal with a wide variety of data input and a team of specialists to analyse, interpret and disseminate the product derived from such investigation. That is exactly what the EDA laboratory, built by Indra in Spain, has provided for the Multinational TEL (MN TEL) deployed last year.

The laboratory was deployed to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) theatre of operations under the management of France, which assumed Lead Nation responsibility for the project.

Captain Jean-Charles Dhyser of the French corps of military engineers was tasked by the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA – France’s defence procurement management authority) with overseeing the development of the laboratory in collaboration with the EDA. Once deployed, he acted in the capacity of technical advisor and EOD expert to the commander of the MN TEL.

Long-term engagement
“It is important to note that this is a long term project and what we have deployed so far is just a trial version. Nevertheless, we have managed a marriage of all the principles involved and can already identify at least five individuals who have been caught making IEDs as a result of the TEL’s activity. Which is what this project is all about – the ultimate objective is the saving of lives,” he said.

The laboratory itself, consisting of a number of standard ISO containers jammed with equipment, provides a wide range of facilities for the gathering of IED event-related information and the processing of that information into actionable intelligence for use by local commanders.

In addition to photographic facilities and what Dhyser calls a “triage and security” functionality, the TEL consists of four main modules: biometric analysis (latent finger print recovery) electrical circuitry (primarily radio parts); media recovery (focused on the mobile phones often used as IED triggering devices); and chemical analysis. “Every explosive has a chemical signature, identification of which is extremely useful,” said Dhyser.

Level Two accreditation
Level Two accreditation of the laboratory is a major step forward. “This gives us the capability for a more comprehensive and rapid analysis after an IED event and enables us to develop intelligence that allows us to get inside the enemy’s decision chain – it’s really about entering the mindset of the terrorist and interrupting his production process; being able to take action before the next event,” he said. Very few nations have a Level Two capability at the moment – the United States and United Kingdom foremost among them – so the development of a European TEL is an extremely important asset.

In a novel approach to pooling and sharing, the EDA’s approach to the MN TEL was to manage the project through its own operational budget and to procure the asset for use by any participating Member State (pMS). Although France, as lead nation, was joined by Austria, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Romania and Poland in directly supporting the project, any pMS can request deployment of the TEL, conditional on its accepting responsibility as lead nation for the deployment period.

Comprehensive and rapid analysis
The major advantages of the MN TEL, according to Dhyser, are the features of “portability and above all flexibility – the ability to develop and disseminate information in a very short period of time.” The rapid nature of activity is not limited to the operational level, however: the speed with which the procurement and deployment process is quite impressive, even by comparison with other urgent operational requirements (UOR) coming from the Afghan theatre of operations.

“This was true de facto collaboration and we were able to contribute significantly to the activities of Combined Joint Task Force Paladin in areas not covered by purely national assets,” said Antoine Torres, spokesman for the DGA. He adds that some of the immediate results of the initial deployment point to the “true benefits stemming from combining national technological capabilities with an international team of experts and a secure working environment.”

Having analysts on the spot, from a variety of nations, with different but complimentary experience and a depth of knowledge that can be applied to a situation as it evolves, rather than at the end of a long communication chain back to a laboratory in mainland Europe, has already proven to be an asset worth every cent of the funding that has gone into making the TEL demonstrator available for operations.