11 October 2012 | Rebecca Ellinor
North Atlantic Treaty Organization - HQ Supreme Allied Command Transformation won awards for its innovative approach to countering the threat of IEDs. Rebecca Ellinor speaks to the winners.
The overall winning entry in this year’s CIPS Supply Management Awards not only transformed military policy, it has also helped save property, money and, most importantly, lives.
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) take many forms and they are versatile, inexpensive and indiscriminate about who they hurt or kill. They have become the weapon of choice for insurgents and terrorists around the world and are the number one threat to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops and civilians – accounting for more than 60 per cent of all civilian casualties.
For years, the approach to tackling these deadly devices has been defensive and reactive, with many individual NATO nations focusing on activities known as ‘right of the boom’ – in other words after the bomb has been detonated. These relied on mitigating the effects of a blast with more heavily armoured personnel and vehicles, as well as increased trauma capabilities.
A decision was then taken to switch efforts to what happens before a device is planted.
The networks that support IEDs are abundant and provide all the leadership, funding, transportation, technology and components needed. NATO knew it was only by thoroughly understanding what these networks look like and who runs them, and developing counter networks to defeat them, that the threat would be reduced.
Recognising that the vast majority of the 28 NATO member nations lacked the experience and resources to train their soldiers to counter these deadly devices, a Counter-IED (CIED) Integrated Project Team (IPT) was commissioned by the Headquarters Supreme Allied Command Transformation (HQ SACT).
The overriding objective of the IPT was to establish an enhanced training capability for NATO operational forces, along with national military and law enforcement personnel. This project led NATO to establish collective efforts at all levels to defeat the entire IED system by attacking networks and preparing forces to reduce or eliminate the effects of all forms of these devices against friendly forces and non-combatants. And once the project team began to research this complex issue, it realised it needed some support from an external contractor.
Working with procurement at the HQ SACT, the IPT developed a work package that covered three key counter-IED pillars: strategic and tactical policy development; training; and mobile advisory teams. The deal was structured as a fixed-price contract with a base period of 12 months and four annual renewal options. Purchasing developed and embedded a non-standard ‘surge capability’ clause in case a quick and temporary increase in support was needed.
Bids were invited from companies throughout all 28 NATO nations and the deal was awarded on 25 August 2010 to UK company Hazard Management Solutions (subsequently renamed Allen-Vanguard Threat Solutions).
Impact of the work
The programme has so far educated 3,672 soldiers (from junior to senior military and law enforcement personnel) from 36 nations in – among other things – collecting post-blast intelligence for forensic analysis that enables NATO forces to find and capture the perpetrators of IEDs. They have also been trained to identify and attack the whole network surrounding the device: the financer, the supplier, the transporter, the builder, the planner, the emplacer and the triggerman. These efforts have reduced the number of casualties of NATO forces relative to the number of IED events.
Kevin Mills, head of procurement at NATO/Allied Command Transformation, headed up the team that did the work, which also included research and development contracting officer Curt Day and research and development contract specialist Tonya Bonilla. Mills says taking the time needed to plan the requirement properly from the outset was one of the keys to the project’s success. “We took a reasonable amount of time to decide what we wanted and when we wanted it. It was a firm fixed price arrangement because we wanted to be able to plan for those costs and control them. We were able to select a highly proficient and commercial partner.
“Part of the arrangement was the non-standard surge capability clause. The benefit of this was that although we were able to define a lot of areas where we wanted support on some aspects of training and policy development because IED and counter-IED is a rapidly changing environment, we wanted the flexibility to respond to new challenges and changes on the ground and react quickly. That capability has been used very successfully – we can, for example, make changes to the training course immediately.”
Feedback from those attending the training has been very positive. A major general in the Belgian Army sent the following feedback: “Let me express my thanks for the outstanding training your mobile advisory team provided in preparing for our next deployment. With your support, our headquarters made a big step forward.”
And the chief of general staff of the Croatian Armed Forces wrote to say: “We attribute a great deal of importance to countering IED threats…Please be assured that you will have our full support and the support of me personally in reaching the objective to build the CIED capability.”
A captain in the Dutch Army said the train the trainer course was the best NATO course they had ever participated in, while a warrant officer in the Italian Army said the weapons intelligence training they attended was “exhaustive” and they looked forward to putting this learning into practice the next time they were deployed with a CIED cell.
Day adds: “Part of our job is to monitor the courses and see how they are taught and received. I attended a course last year and there were probably 40 people there from 10 different nations. Some were on their third or fourth appointments and they came up to me to say: ‘This is probably the best training I’ve ever had, I wish I’d had it before I went on the first or second appointment’. They felt we were giving them the ability to go back, work with their troops, save lives and be better officers and NCOs for the next appointment.”
The NATO counter-IED programme has grown considerably since the initial award of the contract. To ensure an enduring capability for every NATO nation, centres of excellence have been established in Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands. And instead of being a defensive, reactive force, NATO is now able to be proactive and offensive, providing military and law enforcement personnel with pre-deployment training, seminars, workshops, and field experience with IEDs.
The project team has successfully designed, developed and delivered numerous force protection-related counter-IED initiatives along the ‘defeat the device’ and ‘attack the network’ lines of operation at both the strategic and operational levels. Further benefits have been achieved by the deployment of 23 mobile advisory teams to 15 nations to work with military authorities to further develop more robust national counter-IED policy and programmes. And using NATO’s ‘train the trainer’ course, military personnel are prepared to return to their individual military units and provide key courses to prepare troops before they are deployed. Indeed, the benefits of the counter-IED efforts have extended the boundaries of NATO, fostering the safety of non-NATO military and civilians in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.
Mills says the team was delighted to be named overall winner and the accolades that have followed throughout NATO have been fantastic. “The day after the award I started receiving emails from senior management congratulating the team. In 24 hours, our headquarters’ website had been updated with photographs from the CIPS Supply Management Awards ceremony. There’s been strong support and recognition from the highest levels.”
Commander Ray Albarado, US Navy, who was with the team on the night, tells SM: “In these times of austerity, this team put together an amazing solution to help with trying to find the right way to combat such a difficult problem and procurement was that method of doing it.”
The awards judges said this project was a fascinating and innovative example of how procurement can influence strategic policy development. “It takes a completely new approach to countering the threat of IEDs, demonstrating innovation and creativity.”
The success of this project has led to further opportunities for procurement at NATO and it has begun discussions about working with the medical community to come up with something to help with NATO operations, natural disasters or other situations. Mills says it will be interesting because it would mean his team at the headquarters working directly with the United Nations and non-governmental organisations.
Day adds: “The IED project has been such a success that it’s given us a footprint that people want to duplicate in other areas and the medical area is a very good one for us.”
The awards entry process
Kevin Mills, head of procurement – Allied Command Transformation (ACT) at NATO/HQ SACT, says: “We had planned originally to submit an entry last year, but when I looked at the calendar we only had about three months and I thought ‘no, don’t do it, let’s hold on and make sure that it’s a quality submission’.
“So we have worked as a team, fact-finding, gathering info, validating our findings and submitting it 15 months later. It was a lot of effort – a weekly, sometimes twice-weekly fixture on our calendar. Up to the week of submission we would get together as a team and talk about what we needed to do, what was next.
“It was painstaking, but I’m delighted it paid off. It was a lot of hard work to make sure it was a quality submission.”
☛ Watch SM’s video interview with Kevin from the night