Taking place in Kuala Lumpur on May 12-14 in cooperation with the Malaysian Armed Forces, the fourth NCT eXplosive Asia event welcomed more delegates than ever before while hosting the first ever regional EOD forum in Malaysia. Highlighted by the Opening Keynote Address by General Tan Sri Dato Sri (Dr.) Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin, Malaysian Chief of Defense, NCT eXplosive Asia discussed C-IED and EOD related challenges in prevention, training, response and procurement in Asia.
In its fourth year, NCT eXplosive Asia assembled more delegates than ever before. With a large Malaysian delegation, and various international representatives from more than 20 countries, this year’s event was a more than worthy successor of previous editions in India, Thailand and Cambodia. Organized in cooperation with the Malaysian Armed Forces, the event raised a lot of interest in Malaysia itself, being the first focused regional C-IED and EOD conference in the country. As the event’s highlight, the Malaysian Chief of Defense himself, General Tan Sri Dato Sri (Dr.) Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin, gave the Keynote Opening Address of this year’s NCT eXplosive Asia in front of representatives of the Malaysian Navy, Air Force, Army, Police and other Government Agencies.
Current IED related challenges in Asia and worldwide
The development of NCT eXplosive Asia into the largest and leading C-IED and EOD forum in Asia during the last four years is paralleled to the continuously changing threat environment. The kind of IED threats, related challenges in several countries, TTPs of international and regional terrorist networks, as well as available solutions provided by the international industry changed dramatically. After the withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan in 2014, armed conflicts that took place in the Middle East in the last 15 years as well as consequences of the Arab Spring are increasingly showing their challenging legacy for regional stability. Unfortunately countries such as Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria have practically become failed states, providing a safe haven for various terrorist networks – a fact highlighted by the establishment of ISIS in the Levante.
Going further to the East, countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are still challenged by terrorist attacks including explosives and IEDs on a daily basis. At the same time, Southeast Asia has come a long way, learning from several disastrous IED attacks in the 2000s such as the Bali Bombings. This has resulted in an enhanced regional cooperation and the establishment of regional Bomb Data Centers in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. Moreover, these countries still face a recurrent threat of insurgencies, guerilla warfare and terrorist attacks in several regions. Starting from the enduring conflict in Southern Thailand, IED attacks in the Philippines reached a five-year peak in 2014 resulting from activities of terrorist networks such as the New People’s Army, Mindanao Khilafa Islamiyah, Secessionist Groups in the Southern Philippines and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters especially in the Mindanao and Lugon Area. Also Malaysia is increasingly fighting an internal threat in the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone.
NCT eXplosive Asia 2015
Therefore, this year’s NCT eXplosive Asia served as a first assessment of lessons learned from the last events, the development of IED threats in Asia and what the industry has to offer to counter such challenges effectively in order to protect both the soldier and the public. The Malaysian Chief of Defense Forces emphasized the importance of such events as ‘Non-State Actors as opposed to nation states become increasingly prominent in conflicts throughout the world.’ He continued: ‘These groups deemed as insurgents, separatists, militants, terrorists or transnational crime organizations have challenged the international community through a more asymmetric approach of violence to offset the disproportionality which exists. To meet this end, the use of Improvised Explosive Devices has become the primary choice of weapons in their inventories. […] To the participants of this conference, you have my heartfelt appreciation for involving yourself in a most vital aspect of Human Security which will shape the way we respond to this threat in the future.’
Following the Opening, the assessment of regional IED threats and respective needs in training, procurement and C-IED approaches was made by speakers such as Superintendent William Senoron (Chief of the Philippine Bomb Data Center) as well as his colleagues Colonel Dante Dinsay (Philippines Department of Transportation), Colonel Dararutana (Royal Thai Army) and Colonel Ronny Asnawi Asri (National Counter Terrorism Agency, Indonesia). Joined by renowned experts such as Inspector General Brigadier BK Ponwar (Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College) and Commandant Mohd Jamal Khan (Institute of IED Management, Central Reserve Police Force, India), they gave an impressive introduction on the development of IED threats in their countries. In the Philippines for instance, terrorist networks are increasingly targeting public transportation and critical infrastructure and therefore face an important threat to public security. Captain Khalifa Saeed Al-Fulaiti (Weapons and Explosives Institute, Abu Dhabi Police, U.A.E.) also gave an outstanding example how the Abu Dhabi Police effectively prevents terrorist attacks also on critical infrastructure through training and further preventive efforts.
In addition to these regional assessments and displays of needs and requirements in South and Southeast Asia, experts from Europe shared their experience and best practices from defeating the device to countering international terrorist networks in order to contribute to the overall training effort of the event. Maj. Julio Ortega (Spanish Ministry of Defense) shared the first lessons learned from the MNTEL C-IED forensics project in Afghanistan, followed by the best practices of the German Armed Forces in dealing with IEDs in Afghanistan, in particular roadside bombs, presented by Lt Col Christoph Wallner (C-IED Center of Excellence, German Armed Forces Joint Forces Operations Command). In addition, Samuel Paunila (GICHD) and Col. Mathew Geertsen (OECD) covered the problems that follow conflicts like in Ukraine when it comes to ERW disposal, ammunition safety management and stockpile disposal.
That the threat of explosives does not only include the challenge of C-IED, but also the management of landmines and their respective disposal, was highlighted in an impressive speech by H.E. Sophak Monkol, new Secretary General of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority. He concluded that the challenge of dealing with explosives is not only limited to warfare scenarios and the fight against terrorism in various countries. Regional mine action centers and the international community including major donors such as the U.S. Department of State and Norwegian People’s Aid will have to deal for a dozen years with international demining and land release that already followed impressive results for example in Cambodia.
And what does the industry provide as solutions that both apply for demining and C-IED missions? The exhibition of this year’s NCT eXplosive Asia included a perfect example of how industry can contribute in fighting IEDs and landmines. This starts with the Saab Training and Simulation equipment that allows extensive means to prepare the force in dealing with IEDs and landmines and therewith saves not only costs, but more importantly the lives of first responders and soldiers. In addition, companies such as Bruker Detection, ICM, Vallon, MAS Zengrage and K10 Working Dogs provided an overview of state of the art explosives detection, breaching tools and approaches that can also both serve for C-IED missions, critical infrastructure protection and mine detection. And last but not least, Cobham and Nexter provided a perfect example of second generation robotics, large and small, that can help defeating devices in various situations while putting the soldier and first responders out of risk. This year’s industry stakeholders therewith also encountered an overwhelming feedback from a regional C-IED community that is in urgent need for improved training tools, state of the art detection equipment and robotics.