Latest CBRNe Trainings amid a highly challenging CBRNe environment


By Major Georgios Gkanalas, EOD/IEDD/CBRNe SME 116 Combat Wing, Hellenic Air Force, Greece.

During the last nine months, the world has witnessed the unthinkable after the start of a wide scale war in Europe. The Russian invasion in Ukraine is still reverberating badly across the world, especially in the European Union, which is facing high inflation rates and energy deficiencies. Europeans are suffering one more time after the COVID-19 lockdowns due to the current EU leadership’s imprudence and due to the opponents’ obstinacy and splurging revisionism.

At the same time, the South-Eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea is formed as a theater of an undeclared war for a highly valued trophy, the gas and oil reserves of the area. 

Revisionist states are acting as terrorists, demanding a lion share to foreign countries for their existing reserves, weaponizing refugees and threatening the sovereignty of neighboring nations, amidst the total idleness and silence of International Organizations and institutions.

Countries like Greece were struck by the latest misfortunes and is trying to achieve economic stability and maintain its sovereignty. Continuous efforts and billions of euros are spent in order to upgrade and strengthen the Armed Forces of the nation. Consequently, the Armed Forces are constantly trying to keep their efficiency and their high level of readiness through trainings and exercises conducted by all of their respective branches. Some functions of the aforementioned branches are crucial for waging modern warfare and one of those functions is the CBRNe Operations.

After a brief pause due to the pandemic implications, CBRNe trainings were restarted within all major formations of the Armed Forces. The purpose of these trainings is to keep the capabilities of the operators up to date and to provide tactical, operational, and even strategical flexibility to the higher command. Combined chemical and biological agent incidents with the presence of explosives, as well as radio-nuclear contamination by using explosives and other means (e.g., UAS Carriers) are constantly evaluated and exercised by the Combined Forces CBRN Battalion experts and EOD technicians of all Branches of the Armed Forces. Also, some emergency incidents like the crash of the Antonov Cargo plane in Kavala-Makedonia last July, gave operators the opportunity to test their skills and techniques, as well as to gather and evaluate all the lessons learned obtained during real time operations.

However, some undisputed and very disturbing lessons are already extracted by the ongoing operations in Ukraine, especially by the widespread use of unmanned platforms. Both opponents are using aerial, ground, and even maritime platforms in order to inflict damage to each other. In many cases there were recorded incidents of use of Chemical Warfare Agents (CWAs) in the form of boobytrapped sub-munitions or grenades containing the CS gas. Even though the use of a tear producing agent does not present a serious threat, the availability of Soviet era toxic materials and the evolution of chemical and biological capabilities of both sides have already sounded the alarm bell for a possible large-scale incident. Additionally, the situation around the nuclear plant of Zaporozhye poses a serious threat, not only for the neighboring area but for the entire Europe.

Dispensed CS submunition and Drone ©Major Gkanalas

Reviewing all the trainings and exercises conducted throughout 2022, we must notice some very interesting findings about the major object of each training, the intervals between trainings and of course, the outcome and lessons learned from this process. All the aforementioned events were related with simulated and/or emergency incidents, involving the use of chemical and biological agents contained in Unexploded Ordnances (UXOs) and/or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In our case, incidents are related to EOD Units acting autonomously and/or in cooperation with CBRN Units.    

Many of the trainings, executed during tactical or operational evaluations of major formations and others executed according with the annual training syllabus of each unit. Interval time between each training was limited to no more than three months. Every time, the final outcome of each training and the lessons learned were analyzed and discussed thoroughly between units and major Commands or formations.   

Let me present you some of our trainings, as well as some results and extracted lessons.

EOD Units conducted CBRNe trainings, in conjunction with dedicated CBRN/HAZMAT Units/Agencies but also independently, in accordance with National and NATO Standards. These trainings brought together EOD/CBRN/HAZMAT teams, upgraded their knowledge, and of course led to the standardization of operational procedures.

It was also highlighted the importance of following the modern technology and the latest innovations in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other related equipment, tools, material, and software.

Additionally, we vastly discussed the need of conducting CBRNe trainings with allied and friendly forces more frequently, in order to get more experience and to prepare the force for possible future multi-national operations.

The most important lesson that has been extracted from all this process concerned the most valuable element of the CBRNe trainings: the human operator, the EOD technicians or the CBRN/HAZMAT expert. It’s imperative for a team leader to find a way to provide to his/her team members the proper amount of intuition by thoroughly training them in a wide array of incidents, contingencies, and misfortunes. At the end of day, only the human operator is going to make the difference in any incident or situation, regardless of how many or how modern equipment you have at your disposal.

 HAF EOD CBRNe Trainings, ©Major Georgios Gkanalas

As we saw at the beginning of this article, the current geostrategic situation is very volatile and increasingly dangerous. Major conflicts looming in near future, with the use of the most modern technologies of war, like the ever-evolving drones and network-centered warfare. Nevertheless, Ukraine, Syria, Libya etc. taught us that we always must be aware of the use of the “old school” weaponry, such as artillery, infantry and of course the CBRNe warfare.

The nature of modern CBRNe warfare is rapidly changing due to the evolution of modern technology and modern equipment. Drones, FGAs (Fourth Generation Agents), PBAs (Pharmaceutical Based Agents), IEDs and even common ordnance, are here to remind us of the possible impending Apocalypse. 

The CBRNe environment is a very challenging and difficult one, requiring huge amounts of manpower, equipment, and a lot of training. At the end of the road, all of the above needs are connected with the funding, namely, the money.

In order to cope with this demanding environment, allied and friendly Armed Forces must be well prepared and well trained. Common exercises and trainings should be the mainstay of this effort. More funding and sharing of knowledge and equipment, as well as short and long-term agreements for the renewal of equipment and for the joint training of personnel, must be signed between the involved countries. International Organizations and institutions must not be “distant observers” of any forthcoming dire situation and legally and institutionally support the efforts of allied and friendly Forces to counter the CBRNe threats.     

In conclusion, everyone is now realizing that we entered in a “Big Reset” era and that this process has for the moment-only nasty surprises to us. Pandemics, wars, social and economic upheavals and other similar incidents are going to increase the rate of problems into global economy and global energy sufficiency. In any possible conflict the use of “old school” but reliable weaponry like CBRNe agents is not a distant possibility. Allied and friendly nations and their Armed Forces must be prepared in order to counter the use and the consequences of these agents.

Proper preparation has only ONE WAY which is the constant training and re-equipping of your forces. The human operator is the most important and powerful tool at our disposal and we are bound to provide him/her with everything he/she needs in order to cope with his/her duty.

And as the Greek Sophist Protagoras (490BC-420BC) said: «Πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον εστίν άνθρωπος, τωνμεν όντων ως έστιν, των δε μη όντων ως ουκ έστιν », or «Man is the measure of all things: of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not».

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Greek Government. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorized, provided the source is acknowledged and the publisher is given prior notice and sent a copy.

About the Author:

Major Gkanalas is an active-duty EOD/IEDD/CBRNe SME, serving in Hellenic Air Force (HAF) for the last 32 years. He graduated from HAF’s NCO Academy in 1992 as a General Armorer and he volunteered to attend HAF’s EOD School in 1997 and ever since has entered the EOD Community. He worked as Ordnance loader and Weapons Maintainer on F-4E aircraft and F-16C/D Blk 52+Adv. 

Being the EOD Head of 117th & 116th Combat Wings as well as the Ammunition-Explosives QA Officer of these Air Bases for the last 12 years, now moved at the Hellenic Air Force’s Support Command in Elefsis (Athens), as the Head of EOD Desk in Force Protection Directorate.  

He graduated from US NAVSCOLEOD, Eglin AFB, FL in 2009 and he has participated in many training and operational missions (USA, Israel, Thailand, UK, Slovakia etc.). 

Major Gkanalas is a frequent participant in various related webinars, conventions and Expos and he has extensive experience as official trainer at HAF EOD School and HAF Air Tactics Center, Philippines National Police EOD, as well as speaker and article writer.

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