BUILDING PARTNER CAPACITY: Pre-ASEAN Exercise Culminates 5-year Strategic Investment

By USAF Lt Col Joseph Silvers, DTRA CBRN Preparedness Exercise Office

MANILA, Philippines, March 29, 2017 – On the eve of the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) Preparedness Exercise Office conducted a full-scale civil-military response exercise to showcase the newly christened Philippine Army CBRN Platoon as a national capability for the Government of the Philippines. This capability could be pre-staged for rapid deployment in the event of an emergency.

Mr. Jay Finch, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and senior officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. State Department attended the capstone event which proved to be historic by several measures.

“For the first time, Filipino civil HAZMAT authorities were able to integrate military CBRN capabilities in a whole-of-nation CBRN response,” said project leader Commander Adam Booth, “as outlined in their national response planning doctrine.”

DTRA’s CBRN Preparedness Exercise Office led the exercise and facilitated learning for over 175 participants including first responders, planners, and emergency management officials from local, regional, and national-level civilian and military agencies.

The exercise also enabled the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to battle-test its CBRN Platoon under real-world conditions.  Trained and equipped by DTRA's CBRN Preparedness Program (CP2), the CBRN Platoon provides a highly-capable national response asset.

A critical step prior to deploying the platoon is securing a request for forces between the Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) Commander and the AFP Joint Staff.  The exercise provided both agencies with the opportunity to practice the staffing process.

According to Mr Ben Cacioppo, Strategic Engagement Branch Chief for DTRA’s CBRN Preparedness Division, “Joint exercises, like this one, are instrumental in sparking discussions within government agencies to improve the functionality of national crisis-response plans during a CBRN emergency.”

Augmenting the CBRN Platoon were numerous local, regional, and national-level Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).  EOCs closely monitored the incident in ‘real time’, coordinated response actions, and provided interagency support to first responders.

On the U.S. side, the exercise improved joint interoperability and provided DTRA with an opportunity to validate the effectiveness of their “train-equip-exercise model” in building capacity with partner nations.  While over 30 Filipino and U.S. controllers teamed together to administer the response exercise, third-party evaluators from the Guam and Hawaii National Guard independently reviewed the CBRN Platoon’s performance, sharpening DTRA’s $5.8 million investment.

The historic event served as the culmination of 18 months of bilateral planning and preparedness between the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, the Guam National Guard (GUNG), and the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency.  Other partners include the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, U.S. Army Pacific, Hawaii National Guard (HING) and U.S. State Department.

Many organizations were instrumental in bringing this project to fruition.  “We are humbled by the willing partnership of GUNG, HING, DoS, USARPAC, UNICRI and numerous Filipino agencies which all saw the value of this event and offered their support,” noted Commander Booth.