Interview with Lt. Col. Jürgen Pirolt


Director of the European Centre for Manual Neutralisation Capabilities and Commander of the EOD Training Center, Austria

Lt. Col. Juergen Pirolt began his military career in October 1990 as a conscript in the Austrian High Mountain Battalion. After successfully completing his time at the Theresian Military Academy, he graduated as a Lieutenant and Maintenance Officer. His first assignments were as a Maintenance Officer and Company Commander in a Logistics Batalion. In 1998 he was transferred to the EOD Training Center of the Logistics School and started his career as an EOD Officer. Since 2004 he has been the Commander of the EOD Training Center. Since 2012 he organized various international courses and exercises in the field of manual neutralisation of IEDs. Since 2018, he is the Director of the multinational European Centre for Manual Neutralisation Capabilities (ECMAN). He served in several missions in Austria as well as abroad as an EOD Team Leader, EOD Platoon Leader and the Commander of a Multinational EOD Coordination Cell.

You have spent a large part of your career serving the Austrian Armed Forces, what do you bring of that experience in your current position, serving many European countries?

First of all, I am still a serving Senior Officer of the Austrian Armed Forces. The European Centre for Manual Neutralisation Capabilities (ECMAN) is a multinational sponsored entity under the auspices of the European Defence Agency (EDA), which means that primarily the staff, students and operators are military personnel. The Centre is located in Austria and was established on 24th March 2017, when the Sponsoring Nations and EDA signed the Programme Arrangement.

I started my work in the vast field of EOD in 1998 as Weapons and Ammunition Technical Officer at the EOD Training Center of the Austrian Armed Forces. At that time the primary focus was the disposal of conventional munition and landmines. In 1999 we sent our first EOD troops to the NATO led mission in Kosovo, where we had to deal with the IED threat for the first time abroad. We had to purchase equipment, develop new training courses and deal with a comprehensive approach to fully implement that new capability.

My mission experience started in 2003 with the first EU led mission where I was the Team leader of one of the two EOD Teams and the IEDD advisor of the Combined Joint EOD Cell at the mission headquarters – a quite challenging time, as during this very first EU led mission everything had to be developed from scratch. Further missions abroad followed in the roles of EOD Platoon leader and being the Chief of the Multinational EOD Coordination Cell at the headquarters of the KFOR mission in Kosovo.

In 2004 I took over the command of the EOD Training Center having the task to further develop our national EOD capability to be able to deal with Biological and Chemical munition and enhance the IEDD capability to be able to deal with CBRN incidents. This required an increased effort in terms of international cooperation in the EOD community, like the NATO EOD and Joint CBRN Defence Working Groups and security-related EU FP-7 projects but the main effort laid at the EDA´s Project Teams for CBRN EOD and Counter IED. A very challenging task was the development of the first multinational European Level 2 Exploitation Laboratory, which was successfully deployed to the ISAF mission in 2010. It was in 2010, when we discovered at European level the critical gap of solving complex scenarios without any collateral damage involving the skills, techniques and expertise dealing manually with sophisticated terrorist devices. The EDA developed these new skills within short notice leading to the first Manual Neutralisation Techniques (MNT) Course at the end of that year. The implementation in Austria followed just shortly afterwards at national and later on at multinational level with the organisation of multinational courses and the EUROPEAN GUARDIAN exercise series from 2012 – 2017. During all this time, I was deeply involved in the further development of the EOD and the C-IED capabilities, both at the national and the international level.

As the Director of the ECMAN it is my task to generate the needed amount of properly trained MNT Operators, assist all sponsoring nations in order to support the individual nation specific development plans and improve their tactical ability to master sophisticated devices where a functioning of the device or the dispersal of a payload are not acceptable. All our effort is directed to fulfil the aim of ECMAN – to develop Manual Neutralisation capabilities at the highest standards, keep up with the changing and developing trends and be prepared for the current global IED threat.

The European Centre for Manual Neutralisation Capabilities (ECMAN) that you direct is a relatively new initiative, what are the results so far and how do you think it will develop in the future?

ECMAN was established based on previous efforts of the EDA and some member states since the beginning of 2010. It is based on the experiences gained by MNT Courses & Exercise Project 2014 – 2017 considering a closer involvement of the Project Nations in terms of Instructors and Evaluators and cost efficiency regarding external support.

In my opinion, the close involvement during the entire cycle of a Manual Neutralisation (MN) activity provides nations with highly skilled MN personnel. As you are aware, IEDs are still causing significant casualties in operations, missions as well as in civil surroundings. Countering IEDs remains a priority for all nations. There are situations where the operational environment makes the risk of exploding a device or dispersing a payload unacceptable. In those situations, the use of regular EOD procedures and energetic weapons may be inappropriate and Manual IED Neutralisation Capabilities are the last resort. The availability of personnel with the highest possible qualification and an extensive up to date knowledge on the current and expected future development of the multinational MN capabilities should enable nations and organisations to fully implementing this niche capability.

Furthermore, ECMAN is a perfect example for Pooling & Sharing in the European context. The requirement of having a number of highly qualified MN personnel per nation or organisation and the increased cost of training and education highlight the need for the application of the P&S principle. Sharing of knowledge is another added benefit and the Programme is following the policy framework for systematic and long-term defence cooperation and provides a stronger, coherent and enhanced basis in the field of MN capabilities.

In general, ECMAN provides opportunities to enhance education and training, to improve interoperability and capabilities, to assist in doctrine, TTPs and equipment development and ensures also testing and validation of concepts through experimentation. One of the big achievements so far is the deepened cooperation and knowledge transfer about the Manual Neutralisation Capability with different international organisations, security services and other branches like the Special Forces, Exploitation or the CBRN Defence Community.

The forecast into the future is very promising but at the same time very challenging as well, due to the increased requirement of Course slots we will run additional courses in 2020. But at the same time we have to keep up the level of further developing the overall capability. This will be a demanding balancing act as both, the technological and the adversaries development do not stop.

As Commander of the EOD Training Center and Director of ECMAN, what are the biggest challenges with training, doctrines, and equipment that you face?

As Commander of the national EOD Training Center, my biggest challenges is to provide the best possible training to our operators in terms of standardized levels of proficiency. Austrian EOD Operators must be ready to face the current threat and analyse the possible future developments in the “enemy” capabilities. They must observe the national regulations and the multinational guidelines in order to conduct their tasks in the safest way and keep in mind that one of their main objectives is the protection of personnel and property. They are to be aware that EOD scenarios require that personnel protective measures be identified and afforded to all personnel prior to conducting EOD procedures. Insufficient or lack of measures that protect personnel pose an unacceptable risk of injury or death to personnel and/or damage to non-personnel exposures during EOD activities.

As Director of the ECMAN, my biggest challenges – together with my excellent Permanent Staff from Germany, Italy and Austria – is to provide all contributing Member States the best outcome possible in terms of MNT personnel in accordance with the current and future trends and improve techniques, tactics and procedures in the field of Specialist IEDD, MNT, and CBRN EOD. Our pivotal point is that the EOD operator is the decision-maker and the responsible person for a choice of the proper Render Safe Procedure (RSP), and in particular, MNT Operators are the last resort that a Nation can deploy on the spot. At this stage, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all contributors to the ECMAN project who generously gave their time and shared their experience from the beginning.

Besides, I would like to extend my personal gratitude to all of my staff who everyday give their best to develop MN capabilities at the highest standards to contribute to an overall C-IED strategy.

Both military and civilian authorities face the responsibility of EOD and C-IED, what do you think they can learn from one another?

First of all, the IED itself does not differentiate if the target is a military or civilian personnel. So both, military and civilian authorities have to face the same threat. The differences will be the environment where the device is found eg. in military operation or Homeland Security. In my opinion an enhanced cooperation between the different organisations is crucial besides the known issues of sharing classified information – Info Sharing is the main benefit.

ECMAN involves Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Sweden, but, in your opinion, what do you think ECMAN can do more to foster quantity and quality when cooperating with its international partners?

ECMAN “not can” but “must” do more every year to enhance education and training initiatives, improve interoperability and capabilities, conduct knowledge, research and development activities and assist contributing Member States in doctrine, TTPs and equipment development.

The ECMAN Programme of Work has to be considered a “living” document extremely flexible and adaptable to the proposals of the ECMAN Expert Team composed by Operators, Experts and Specialists from the Project Nations. My staff is permanently exploring the existence of technical information and reports about IED events, and looking for potential areas of interaction/cooperation with other national/multinational organizations in the specific fields of specialist IEDD, MNT and CBRN EOD. Right now we have cooperation with the NATO Centres of Excellence for EOD and Joint CBRN Defence and the EDA Joint Deployable Exploitation and Analysis Laboratory (JDEAL).

Lately, the multinational EOD Community identified Manual Neutralisation Techniques (MNT) as the most advanced IEDD proficiency. For this reason, ECMAN dedicates its time and energy to provide Nations with the best possible “product” in terms of MNT Operators, MNT Instructors and MNT Evaluators.

If you could speak to all the EOD and C-IED industry leaders what would you ask from them to make your job as a leader in this field easier?

Well! This question seems easy but it is very difficult to explain my point of view as EOD Operator.

The eruption of low intensity conflicts and terrorism waves at the beginning of the 21st century forced further development in the techniques and methods of explosive ordnance disposal. EOD operators and technicians have to adapt to rapidly evolving methods of constructing devices.

Globally, increasing terrorism activities is one of the major factors expected to drive the demand for explosive ordnance disposal equipment. Therefore, I would like to ask EOD and C-IED industry leaders to understand the real need of the EOD Operators on the ground, and follow their advice and technical guidelines in order to study, design and produce new tools and materials ready to be used without any limitations. Sometimes, at the beginning, this approach could be not interest-bearing from the business point of view, but at long term EOD and C-IED industry leaders could bring a very competitive product to the global EOD equipment market. ECMAN started with this pro-active approach and right now we have good relationships with a lot of companies that produce technical tools and equipment.

Our Staff is very satisfied about the possibility to speak directly to the industry and give important technical advice in order to receive tools and materials that respect initial expectations. I consider it to be the standard modus operandi within the ECMAN project in order to conduct all campaigns in the most cost effective manner, which meets EDA strategic interests and the operational objectives of the contributing Member States. ECMAN ensures also testing and validation of concepts and equipment through experimentation on the field.

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