Joint Venture ATOM Delivers Asymmetric Training
Source: Q1 2016 Inside PAE. Click here for the PDF of the article as it originally appeared in the PAE employee magazine.
A Partnership with Alford Technology
ATOM Training (ATOM for short) was created in 2011, when A-T Solutions and Alford Technology combined their counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED) and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training capabilities to form a joint venture based in the United Kingdom. The ATOM team trains and supports military, law enforcement, first responder, government and nongovernmental organizations in global security, asymmetric threats, public safety, emergency response and infrastructure protection. These trainings and services help customers detect, defeat and mitigate the full spectrum of threats. Through PAE’s acquisition of A-T Solutions in the summer of 2015, the ATOM team became part of the larger PAE family.
Scalable and Flexible Courses Taught by Experts in the Field
ATOM is led by Andy Cooper, who serves as CEO and Managing Director of the joint venture. Andy is a former UK Special Forces C-IED team leader and served as an instructor at the UK Army School of Ammunition, an international improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD) training school also known as the Felix Centre.
As is the case with many joint ventures, ATOM’s success requires a lean business model. Andy is the only fulltime employee at ATOM and relies upon a variety of subcontractors and contract employees to keep overhead down. However over the course of his 28 year career, he has been successful in cultivating relationships with experts that serve as members of the ATOM leadership team; all former military C-IED operatives, each with at least 25 years of experience. They manage a dedicated team of trainers who are ready to be deployed anywhere in the world, usually within a day’s notice.
“We don’t do this because we have to. It’s not just a job. We do this because we love what we do, and we are all experts in our field. When you reach the point where you have the training and experience in something you love doing, that passion comes through to your students in your professionalism and competence,” said Andy.
ATOM’s just-in-time business model provides expert trainers when and where they are needed. The company’s UK-based facilities and mobile training teams allow them to reach international markets in Africa, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates in addition to locations throughout the UK. ATOM’s instructor resources are scalable and flexible, which matches the customization level of its training courses.
Basic to Advanced Options for Training, Consultancy Services and Products
ATOM provides C-IED and EOD counter-threat training and consultancy services as well as products that support training and operations. Customizable and progressive, the courses run the gamut from basic to advanced, including awareness courses for novices and expert-level training for specialized operators such as Special Forces and SWAT team personnel. Consultancy services ensure each element of an organization’s counter-threat operations is up to date, cohesive and effective. Products include realistic training aids (simulated IEDs), specialized tools, such as breaching equipment and robots for render safe, and mission support kits for tactical site search and exploitation and evidence collection.
Small Team Delivers a Spectrum of Training
ATOM’s training covers the spectrum of IED threats; EOD practices, equipment and tools; and unexploded munitions disposal and C-IED techniques. Most courses run three to four weeks. ATOM tailors each module and delivery to participants’ needs, operating environment, skill level and resources. Its largest training contract to date was for the United Nations (UN) Mine Action Service Advanced (UNMAS) EOD training, valued at $750K.
Although ATOM is a small entity, “Last year, we conducted 42 weeks of training and trained nearly 300 students,” said Andy. Most of this was specialized training. Mobile teams deliver 60% of training at customer sites. The other 40% occurs at ATOM’s UK training facility just south of Bristol, where there is an explosive firing range and other sites to conduct practical exercises based on real-world scenarios.
“We can usually stand up three to four training teams at a time. There are four to five instructors on a team including a team leader/senior instructor. We consistently have at least one team out working in the international market,” said Andy. The only locations where ATOM does not offer training are in the United States and Canada, because PAE’s National Security Solutions business unit covers those areas.
Classroom instruction accounts for 40% of training, but the majority is hands-on. “We begin with tabletop exercises to familiarize students. Instruction progresses incrementally and builds on itself, culminating in active participation in scenarios that involve finding and rendering safe IEDs. When they get to the scene, students question witnesses and incident staff and formulate a threat assessment (what are the threats, how will I mitigate them, what steps do I need to take),” said Andy. “They develop a render safe plan using tools, such as robots, weapon systems, x-ray systems, hook and line, bomb suit and other specialized EOD tools. After they render the threat safe, students gather forensic evidence. Using intelligence gathered on scene, law enforcement analysts piece together facts and make connections to figure out who placed the device, and why and how they did it. Analysts use evidence to trace the device from the person that placed it, to builder, to financier, to mastermind, connecting people, devices, and events to identify the network and catch and convict criminals and terrorists.”
Customers rave about ATOM training results. Lance Malin, Head of Section/Programme Manager, UNMAS, Libya said, “As with the first two courses, the third course was a resounding success, and once again, you guys have pulled the rabbit out of the hat and delivered, on time, to budget and plan.” Accolades roll in from around the world too: “The courses delivered by ATOM have been to a consistently high standard and we would have no hesitation in recommending the company to other EOD agencies,” said Lt. Col. C. (Kess) Bergman, Commander Centre of Excellence EOD Command.
Training accounts for about 90% of ATOM’s revenue. Consulting services and products account for the other 10%.
Consultancy Services Identify Gaps in Customer Capabilities
ATOM consultancy services include assessments, curriculum development and exercise planning. ATOM subject matter experts conduct systematic training needs analyses to identify gaps in capabilities and develop curricula and practical exercises to address knowledge or skills deficits. They assess training outcomes using the Kirkpatrick four-step measurement process, an evaluation methodology for judging learning processes. Tests administered before and after training measure training effectiveness. If test data reveals low scores for a particular skill, instructional designers revise training methods, materials and exercises. Deployment exercises accurately evaluate customer mission readiness.
Replicated Products Assist with Training
ATOM exploits the most recent enemy tactics, techniques and procedures to reverse engineer relevant, realistic simulated training devices using locally procured components to ensure authenticity. These devices accurately replicate IEDs used domestically and globally. Inert but fully functional, devices are available fully or partially assembled or as post-blast kits for forensics data collection/analysis practice.
Through an international team of partners, ATOM provides specialty tools that address the unique challenges bomb technicians face in accomplishing their jobs. ATOM also facilitates customer access to Alford Technologies tools and user-filled explosive charges and provides specialty and customized search/tactical site exploitation, hand entry and evidence collections kits.