David West has worked as an Operational Analyst within the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Effects Team in London since October 2011. He is on detachment from the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (Dstl), and is normally based at Portsdown West near Portsmouth. This is David’s second posting to Whitehall; he has also been posted to Defence Equipment and Support in Bristol and during 2010 - 2011 he led the Operational Analysis team in Bahrain supporting Maritime Security Operations.
I return to my computer, having been distracted by the sound of horses’ hooves as the Household Cavalry change the guard outside my window. On the screen is analysis of the ongoing fight in far-off Afghanistan against the threat of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
Not all supporting operations require physically facing the heat and dust of Helmand. The Counter-IED Effects Team consists of five analysts from Dstl who work in Whitehall. Our remit is to provide the MOD with an understanding of progress in the UK’s fight against the IED threat in Afghanistan, and better appreciate the threat and associated risks.
While our military colleagues in theatre have a vast array of equipment to detect and protect themselves against IEDs, away from the firing line we analysts come armed with nothing much more than a computer and an enquiring mind. The questions we answer vary but tend to help inform decisions about current and future capability requirements, and are based around understanding ‘how are things changing on the ground?’ and perhaps more importantly ‘why are things changing?’ It is not always easy to produce clear answers as there are many factors to take into account - our own capability to counter the threat is continually evolving, the insurgents who lay the IEDs get better at doing so, and there are also external influences such as the varying seasons.
We work particularly closely with our analyst colleagues posted out to Afghanistan, who regularly send us tasks via the Dstl reachback process, when they may not have the required analysis tools or time. For example, we were recently asked to look whether a range of IED detection methods were still effective. We were able to show that the systems in question were having a positive effect and our study helped justify their continued use.
It’s not just about equipment though; we also look at other factors such as the impact of training. A study earlier this year compared the ability of different teams to find and make safe IEDs. This showed clearly that introducing new equipment on its own is not the answer – you also need integrated training to maximise the benefit.
Aside from the technical satisfaction of doing what we do, it can be very rewarding working at the centre of defence in Whitehall, alongside the senior MOD staff as part of the team. I am also lucky enough to work in the grandeur of the Old War Office Building, (used as a backdrop in the latest Bond movie and brilliantly reconstructed by the team). Many of the sights and sounds of central London lie just outside the door; Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament are within walking distance.
But all good things come to an end, I will shortly return to Dstl.