By Cheryl Pellerin
Washington, D.C. - In a geopolitical environment with proliferating threats, a Defense Department whole-of-government exercise held May 5-8 provided a realistic way for federal, state and local experts to interact in simulated situations involving mock home-grown terrorists and a nuclear incident.
This year’s Nuclear Weapon Accident Incident Exercise, or NUWAIX 2015, took place on Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor located on the Kitsap Peninsula in the state of Washington.
As the home base for the Navy’s fleet on West Puget Sound, NBK-B supports surface ships and fleet ballistic missile and other nuclear submarines whose home ports are Bremerton and Bangor.
The set the stage for the actions required within a whole-of-government framework to mitigate the consequences of an incident involving a U.S. nuclear weapon in DoD custody at a military base in the continental United States. Among other goals, the exercise aimed to enhance the cooperative efforts of federal, state and local response agencies.
Exercise Participants Federal participants in the exercise included the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, U.S. Northern Command, the FBI, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration .
Other participants included the U.S. Navy Region Northwest, Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific, Marine Corps Security Forces Battalion-Bangor, officials from the State of Washington and Kitsap County, and others.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, or DTRA, was the DoD exercise lead.
“I'm very proud of the DTRA team that planned and executed NUWAIX 15, integrating and managing over 1,500 participants who made up a whole-of-government response,” DTRA Director Ken Myers said after the exercise. “DTRA's motto is ‘Making the World Safer,’ and I guarantee that our world is a bit safer today because of the superb exercise this team developed and executed in Washington.”
Preparation The NUWAIX 15 field-training exercise took three days to complete and a year to plan, DTRA lead and exercise project officer Army Maj. Matt Kershner told DoD News during a recent interview.
Planning included a concept development meeting to determine the elements that each participant wants the exercise to address.
“One agency might say that they need contamination,” Kershner said. “Another agency might say, that they want to work on security, or another agency might say that they want to work on communications. We took all those and … and from there determined what the scenario needed to be in order to achieve as many of the training objectives as possible.”
Next came the planning meetings -- initial, mid and final.
The Big Concept In the initial meeting, he said, we “hammered out all the differences with regards to the equities everybody wanted,” the major said.
“At that point you agree to the big concepts. For example, we all agreed on the number of weapons systems, we all agreed there would be contamination -- so you start trying to finalize as many of the details as possible,” he added.
By the mid planning meeting the scenario was complete except for logistics, Kershner said -- how many people and vehicles needed to be in each of three field-training sites for the exercise.
“The final planning meeting was fine tuning the last-minute details -- the major logistics,” he said, adding that one of the most complex jobs this year was scheduling and coordinating military flights for equipment and people from different organizations.
Remaining Issues In March, DTRA conducted a senior leader facilitated discussion to give senior leaders of those who would participate in the exercise an opportunity to work through and talk through remaining issues without going through the exercise, Kershner said.
The details of the exercise were closely held and never revealed to the players, he added.
During the week of the exercise, coordinators did last-minute fixes, trained the exercise observers/controllers, held safety and security briefings, and pre-staged three remote sites to be used in the exercise.
On May 5, the exercise began. Here’s the scenario:
A domestic terrorist organization with a transnational connection attacked a weapons convoy on Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. An NBK-B weapons movement supervisor who works onsite helped the terrorists do this.
The attack killed and injured many Marine Corps Security Force Battalion members. In the exercise, this was Site 1.
The attacking force then removed the weapon from the convoy and ran, with responders in pursuit. During pursuit and before leaving the base, the terrorists detonated an explosive device.
The site and weapon suffered damage, and the explosion caused radiological contamination. The Strategic Weapons Facility responded as the Navy Initial Response Force. This was Site 2.
Weapon Incident Response Federal departments and agencies determined the weapon was in Kitsap County, and the Navy Region Northwest Response Task Force was activated on the base. Federal agencies deployed specialized personnel and technical teams to conduct weapon incident response operations in the Kitsap County area. This was Site 3, at a location near NBK-B.
After the weapon was returned to federal control and determined to be safe, it was prepared for shipment and moved to a designated facility.
Describing the three remote sites, Kershner said Site 1, also known as the “Attack” site, was pre-staged with wrecked vehicles and dead and wounded bodies of Marines and terrorists. All bodies were adorned with realistic-looking mock wounds and injuries, a practice called moulage that’s used for medical training.
“Site 2 was the explosion, where the U.S. stockpile weapon did not function as designed but was rather damaged, he said, adding that the explosion “gave us the contamination we needed for the event.”
Tactical Actions Also at that site, Kershner said, technical assets from different government agencies were able to “get into the immediate actions of dealing with that type of weapon system.”
Site 3, a geographically separated area about 10 miles away, involved tactical actions and investigative issues that follow such an event, he said.
This included “tracking down leads and conducting interviews, that led to and culminated in tactical actions -- tactical meaning civilian law enforcement assets forcefully capturing or killing terrorists,” Kershner said.
The exercise was over when most or all training objectives were met and the exercise director determined that the exercise was complete.
After-action Review Immediately afterward, with input from the observers/controllers, the lead team offered what Kershner called a “hot wash,” or a facilitated after-action review that provided initial feedback on the exercise performance.
In about 90 days, a comprehensive after-action review will be produced in ified and unified versions, he explained.
Exercise personnel included role players, observers/controllers and players.
Observers/controllers observed the players and noted positive and negative actions which would be the foundation of the after-action report, Kershner said. Players are always experts -- the people who actually do the jobs that are focused on in the exercise -- so during the exercise they were allowed to work freely.
Setting the Stage In the exercise, Kershner said, “the scenario really sets the stage for actions required within the whole-of government response framework.”
He added, “That goes to consequence management, the immediate actions that would require the recapture and recovery of U.S. assets, and the deployment of these types of teams and organizations and agencies throughout the United States.”