DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- For more than 14 years, a contingent of United Kingdom Royal Air Force Gunners from 20 (Defence CBRN) Wing has eagerly traveled from the U.K. to the vast desert of northwestern Utah for some of the world's most advanced training in chemical and biological defense.
The 20 Wing's mission is to deliver specialist Counter-CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) Force Elements readiness, provide advice, and support its Ministry of Defence and other government departments, the U.K. mainland and overseas contingency operations.
At Dugway, the specially trained R.A.F. Regiment Gunners (the proper term for R.A.F. Regiment members) expand their counter-CBRN knowledge and skills considerably.
"This is where they get a chance to build on their Tactics, Techniques and Procedures," said Wendell Williams, program manager with Dugway's Special Programs Division.
Training mirrors actual practice. A small team of Gunners in full protective gear is led by a sergeant into a mock hotel. Within is a mock laboratory, created from authentic equipment, to provide them with a realistic chemical or biological agent scenario.
Each team is accompanied by a subject matter expert -- a Dugway biologist or chemist -- and an R.A.F. sergeant. Together, they observe and critique the team as it conducts reconnaissance, exploitation, survey and sampling of a selected chemical or biological target.
"It gives the senior sergeants a chance to run the scenario, refine and improve their TTPs, use their detection gear and get feedback from the Dugway SME," Williams said.
Thirty two Gunners of the 26 and 27 Squadrons of the 20 Wing of the R.A.F. Regiment attended the three weeks of lab and field training at Dugway. Of the 32, Flt. Lt. Laurence was the only officer. The equivalent of a U.S. captain, he oversees the unit. This is Laurence's first time to Dugway and the United States; he's impressed by both.
The training covers chemical warfare, chemical explosives, biological warfare and the materials used to create them. Authenticity of laboratory and field exercises, without creating hazards, is stressed. Each field training scenario has a target, a mock agent lab and other items to be recognized and sampled. Dugway SMEs use benign materials to activate their detector's alarm, simulating the presence of a chemical or biological agent.
The first week Gunners learn laboratory skills from scientists, through classroom briefs and lab work, that focus on chemical and biological detection, hands-on practical actions in the lab, recognizing the signatures left by CB production, and identifying syntheses used to make chemical warfare materials. Actual agent is not used.
The second week is a low-intensity application of laboratory recognition skills learned in the first week, using simple scenarios to bolster confidence and concentrate on TTPs.
The third week involves more complex field training exercises requiring Gunners to employ their newly acquired CBRN skills to complete the missions in various environments.
Since 1916, countermeasures to chemical and biological warfare have been developed and taught to British military members at the U.K.'s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down -- a major government facility.
Cpl. Richardson, a seven-year veteran of the unit, knows that standardization in teaching CB countermeasures is critical. He ensures that the processes mandated by Porton Down continue to be carried out, even at Dugway.
"The training is superb," Richardson said. "The scientists are more than happy to explain at a level everyone can understand. A very good standard of teaching, hence that's why we come out here."
One aspect of the training hasn't changed through the years, Richardson noted: Gunners training here for the first time must work at the same level as experienced ones.
Cpl. Owen, a 13-year veteran of the R.A.F. who is making his first visit to Dugway and America, is certain he'll return to the U.K. with greater experience and knowledge. "It's nice to see a different perspective on things," he said. "The training is really great. I've mostly enjoyed seeing the processes in the labs, seeing new things. It builds on the knowledge of what we already know. Takes you out of your comfort range; a new challenge."
Senior Aircraftsman Herson, also his first time to Dugway, has been in the R.A.F. for nearly three years. "I like the scale and complexity of the scenarios, compared to those in the U.K.," he said, adding that he'll return to the U.K. with a greater understanding of different chemical and biological processes.
The opportunity to see a slice of America on a weekend wasn't lost on the Gunners. Some took in a Utah Jazz basketball game, watched an ice hockey game or snow skied. Wherever they went, Americans were intrigued and friendly.
Dugway Proving Ground, with its nearly 800,000 acres of land, can accommodate just about any training and testing scenario. Its world-class labs and outdoor facilities, where personnel are continually testing chemical and biological defenses, enhance training.
"We just don't have the real estate like this in the U.K." Laurence said. "It's an outstanding opportunity."