Sri Lanka to host next on-site inspection integrated field exercise in 2025
The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) approved the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka as the host country for the next on-site inspection (OSI) Integrated Field Exercise (IFE), IFE25, to be held in 2025.
On-Site Inspection: the final verification measure
Upon entry into force, On-site inspections shall be the ultimate verification measure under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) to conclusively establish whether a nuclear explosion has been conducted. Any State Party shall have the right to request the inspection of an area where it believes a nuclear test might have occurred, which will then need to be approved by the Executive Council. A highly skilled inspection team shall then deploy to investigate a clearly defined area using established inspection techniques in accordance with various parameters defined by the Treaty.
Executive Secretary Robert Floyd underscored the importance of on-site inspections for the Treaty’s verification regime.
“Whilst we rely on the International Monitoring System (IMS) for detecting nuclear test explosions, definitive evidence can only be gathered on the ground, and that is where on-site inspection comes in.”
The CTBTO’s On-site Inspection Division is tasked with building up OSI capability by developing a training programme for future inspectors, preparing and testing equipment for Treaty-mandated techniques, and developing procedures and methodologies, all consistent with a detailed and evolving Operational Manual, to ensure the CTBT verification regime’s readiness to conduct an OSI upon the Treaty’s entry into force.
What is an Integrated Field Exercise?
OSI Integrated Field Exercises are amongst the largest and most technically complex multi-national exercises in the fields of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) arms controls in the world. They are designed to test the application of virtually all OSI techniques, mechanisms, systems, and procedures against a technically realistic, scientifically credible scenario. Moreover, all four OSI phases, namely launch, pre-inspection, inspection, and post-inspection, are included in the IFE.
“IFE25 is expected to bring together more than 180 technical experts and other participants from around the world, in various roles, who will have an opportunity to apply their training and expertise in what we hope will be a near-realistic OSI exercise scenario. In doing so, the IFE will serve as a prime opportunity to demonstrate and assess overall OSI capabilities, identify opportunities for improvement and further build relationships with stakeholders and within the CTBT community.”
Participants will include national technical experts, surrogate inspectors nominated by States Signatories, CTBTO staff members and independent external evaluators. In addition, approximately 120 tons of equipment to conduct the exercise are expected to be transported to Sri Lanka by both sea and air.
Sri Lanka’s Selection
Considerations for the selection of a location for IFE25 included the availability of a large, relatively remote area with a moderately topographical environment, the presence of natural or man-made features of OSI interest, the availability of in-country operational and logistical support if required, as well as strong political support for, and commitment to, the CTBT. Following a rigorous assessment, including reconnaissance visits by CTBTO staff after States Signatories submitted expressions of interest to host IFE25, Sri Lanka was deemed as meeting the necessary criteria and recommended to the Preparatory Commission.
Sri Lanka is a longstanding supporter of the CTBT, having signed the Treaty one month after it opened for signature in 1996, and hosts an auxiliary seismic station (AS100) that is part of the International Monitoring System (IMS) network. Sri Lanka has also actively supported the work of the OSI Division, regularly nominating national experts to attend training programmes, expert meetings, and workshops, and it hosted a major Regional Introductory Course on OSI for experts in 2015.
Commenting on the selection, the Hon. M.U.M. Ali Sabry, PC, MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, said:
“Sri Lanka’s desire to host the OSI IFE25 is well in line with its long-standing commitment towards achieving the objectives of the CTBT which Sri Lanka has decided to ratify. We are looking forward to successfully concluding the exercise.”
OSI Exercise Programme 2022-2025 and IFE25 preparatory activities
IFE25 is the highlight of a series of OSI exercises included in the current exercise programme. Other notable exercises the OSI Division shall conduct in preparation for the IFE in 2025 include:
Three Directed Exercises in Bruckneudorf, Austria over four weeks in September 2023, focusing on field operations support, environmental sampling and processing and data flow management;
A tabletop exercise for CTBTO senior managers, aimed at familiarizing them with OSI-related procedures, in December 2023;
A Build-up Exercise focusing on continuation period activities over three weeks in summer 2024.
Sri Lanka is expected to host several preparatory meetings, field tests, and training activities over the coming two years in preparation for IFE25. CTBTO and Sri Lanka will work closely to address operational, technical, legal, and other issues as necessary to ensure a successful exercise that will both demonstrate the capability and strength of the OSI element of the verification regime and provide insights on further development in preparation for entry into force of the CTBT.