CBRNe Training: Interoperability & Multinational Cooperation Across Europe


By Lt. Col. Oliver Toderiska, CBRN Battalion Commander, Armed Forces of Slovakia

Just as in the past, CBRNe training still remains a priority for many reasons.All authoritarian regimes were, and are, willing to seize any kind of CBRN material for terrorist purposes. There are many examples of how strong their hope is for success is – and we must be on alert more than ever before.

Across almost all CBRN units across Europe, our missions are similar in definition:

  1. To be prepared to deploy CBRN defense forces and the means to execute the full range of CBRN operations in supporting the Combined Join Task Force operations;
  2. To be prepared to provide military support to the Ministry of Interior and the civil authorities in eliminating the threats of chemical, biological and radiological terrorism;
  3. To provide military support in response to ecological accidents involving the release of chemical, biological and radiological materials.

Our mission is defined by only three sentences, but it remains as complicated as it is comprehensive.

CBRN units must cooperate with each other very closely. Standard operational procedures (SOPs) must come under strong validation through joint training. Slovakia’s CBRN exercises are based on a scenario when all possible CBRN skills or capabilities need to be deployed. Ex Toxic Lance or Ex Toxic Valley are perfect examples of multinational cooperation in this matter, but with different philosophies and different units’ participation. For many years these two exercises have provided us with a very strong foundation for participating in highly specialized and very unique training opportunities with other European CBRN units.

When we speak of or write about our “mission,” Detection, Analysis, Identification, Decontamination, Protection, Advice, and Search and Rescue are written in capital letters. What is the reason behind this? It is essentially because all of these elements are extremely important within the context of CBRN, just like Ariadne’s thread in the labyrinth of the Minotaur’s cave was – to borrow a term from Greek mythology. What is more, all units must address these mission tasks – or requirements – at the same time. I have been involved with the CBRN profession since cca 1982, so I am not afraid to say that “for CBRN units it is vital to be interoperable with other units across the Europe.”

As the commander and founder of the CBRN battalion and the exercise Director of Ex Toxic Lance since 2015, I can say the exercise grew to become a large-scale event in 2019, with more than 400 participants including special CBRN units from the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, the USA (the Indiana and Texas National Guard and regular US Army personnel in Europe) joined the Slovak Republic at our Military Training Area (MTA) at Lešť and the Training and Testing Center (TTC) CBRN at Zemianske Kostoľany.

The joint forces trained together during special preparedness scenarios at both locations and needed to function as one unit under one command in order to succeed. Multinational conditions in these types of situations place high pressure on each soldier and unit to cooperate well. Special training scenarios pushed everyone involved to compare their own national SOPs and evaluate them with one goal in mind – the CBRN mission that must be accomplished. An internationally mixed unit of CBRN specialists, under one commander (e.g. a Polish officer) consisted of 55 soldiers and 29 special vehicles. Although this is a major challenge for each of the unit commanders, it is also the nature of multinational cooperation within an CBRN Exercise, except on the top level. I am so proud to say that it worked and all tasks were accomplished at a high professional level without rest.

Many CBRN units across Europe also trained together later under the NATO and FNC CBRN Exercise Coronate Mask 2018. MTAs in Bergen, Stettin, Tisa, Civitavecchia and Zemianske Kostoľany were filled with up to 1300 CBRN soldiers from 14 allied nations. Even though it was already covered in the NCT Magazine, one of the main challenges of this exercise was not mentioned – the CBRN special sampling teams from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Italy and Germany who comprised teams and conducted the sampling together. The samples were packed in special boxes and transported through two NATO countries, travelling from MTA Tisa (Czech Republic) to TTC CBRN (at Zemianske Kostoľany, Slovakia) for analysis. At TTC CBRN there were eight special CBRN laboratories deployed from eight nations to manage this process and analysis – such was the extent of the task.

Why is this special? It is the first time ever in our history and the modern CBRN exercise history that samples were transported safely from country to country for analysis! Europe as our “motherland” deals with CBRN threats at an almost daily basis. Out of concern for people’s lives, it does not matter if the danger comes from Combat Warfare Agents, Toxic Industrial Chemicals, or even accidental release of nuclear waste, those factors may very seriously impact them immediately. A CBRN unit must be interoperable and capable of multinational cooperation. I am confident our exercises will allow us to grapple with this very complex and difficult task. My greatest wish is to attain a future where we only need to deploy CBRN units in military test areas.

About the Author

Lt. Col. Oliver Toderiska

After completing his military education in Chemistry he has served as commander in a CBRN platoon in 1990, advancing in his career through several positions including Senior leader officer and CBRN specialist in the General staff and commander of the Mobile Identification Laboratory of the CBRN Bn Rožňava. He was deployed in the Operation Desert Storm as second in command of the SLOVCON, and then to KFOR in Kosovo in 2008 and then deployed again in Afghanistan in 2016-2017 as SLOVCON commander. has participated as a training commander/developer in many courses for specialists or nation representatives from Slovak / international organization (Ministry of Interior, Ministry of foreign affairs, OPCW, UN OCHA, etc). Among his personal awards there is the medal of the President of the Slovak Republic in 2003, 2008 – NATO “Non-Article V” medal in 2008 and the medals of the Minister of defense of the Czech Republic and of the Slovak Republic for abroad service in 2003.

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