November 10, 2020 – It takes a lot of work to be known as the best in the business. For the Navy’s Expeditionary Exploitation Unit-1 (EXU-1) at Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division (NSWC IHD), that means a lot of training before deployment. As the Navy’s preeminent authority in the technical and forensic exploitation of advanced weapons and other systems, EXU-1’s work is critical in helping put the clues together to figure out who is responsible for that ordnance, and providing valuable data to advise what the bigger picture could mean for Joint Force countermeasures or national level attribution supporting diplomatic actions. In preparation for their next deployment, EXU-1 recently concluded their Final Evaluation Period (FEP) — the culmination of six months of training — certifying them as ready to accomplish their critical mission in expeditionary technical intelligence (TECHINT) operations.
EXU-1 is an operationally deployable Type II, Echelon V command aligned under NSWC IHD. The unit hosts a variety of platoons designed to collect, process, exploit and analyze improvised threats, advanced weapons systems, munitions, ordnance, unmanned systems, and strategic infrastructure on land and sea to provide real-time targeting information and intelligence to explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) forces. EXU-1 was commissioned in June 2018 as an Echelon V Command reporting to NSWC IHD Commanding Officer Capt. Scott Kraft, who serves as the Immediate Superior in Command to EXU-1.
While in theater, EXU-1 platoons will collect and process evidence of value for fingerprints and DNA, analyze items of interest for their technical signature, reverse engineer electronic systems for countermeasures development, and compile data to drive intelligence. These efforts often lead to the ability to identify and exploit the hostile networks responsible for the production and use of those materials, as well as attribute state sponsors to acts of aggression.
“With the FEP, we run our platoons through real-life scenarios, such as a post-blast examination, to document and collect evidence from the scene. The team is also looking for similarities of the different ordnance they may encounter in the field for TECHINT requirements,” said EODCS Christopher Courtney, EXU-1 Training Leading Chief Petty Officer. “Once they process the scene, they will take the evidence back to their mobile labs to analyze the data. That data then allows us to get a clearer picture of who is responsible for these events.”
It’s not just EXU-1 personnel who are being trained, either. The unit works collaboratively with federal agencies such as the FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency during this period to facilitate interagency cooperation and foster a sense of understanding when these groups encounter incidents in the field. By using the data obtained from the EXU-1 teams, these and other agencies gain critical knowledge of the procedures and techniques being utilized by hostile state and non-state actors.
During deployment, EXU-1 personnel will conduct post-blast investigations with partner nations and advise them on the use of specific tools and techniques necessary to ultimately exploit the threat. According to Courtney, it is these collaborations that are critical in honing the proficiency of our allies while also strengthening relationships for future operations.
“We train to international standards and that is critical because when we deploy to these areas, we aren’t just there to support the immediate mission: we’re also training our international partners to be able to do what we do,” he said. “In this era of great power competition, forging these relationships with the international community is critical.”
Recent collaborations include the investigation of the 2019 Gulf of Oman Incident where two oil tankers were attacked with Iranian mines near the Strait of Hormuz.
“Preparing our platoons for deployment is a difficult task: they operate in complex environments with a dynamic threat space and the output of their exploitation work often has strategic implications,” said EXU-1 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Edgar Britt. “They have to consider the tactical details and the strategic narrative. I’m excited to see our teams get out on deployment and execute their skillset in support of operational commanders.”