The bomb squad technician walks slowly towards the empty Dakota airplane, his body wrapped in a 40kg suit of armour.

Like an astronaut doing a space walk, he vanishes inside the aircraft to emerge with a small box. He back-steps and carries the item used by terrorists to hijack the old military plane.

About 100m away, he fiddles and once more makes his retreat. A small mistake is deadly.

Three … Two … One … Bang!

The explosion echoes across the tar and concludes another live simulation in Operation Shield, a series of security exercises ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Suicide bombers on jet skis, divers planting limpet mines on a navy ship’s belly and oil tankers on fire are some of the other “threats” that have been put to the test in Port Elizabeth.

The exercises – co-ordinated by the police – will move to Gauteng in November, where they are set to offer the toughest challenge yet to all security forces involved.

Operation Shield wrapped up in Port Elizabeth on Friday, with the media being invited to witness two full simulations. At the weekend, it moved to Bloemfontein, where it will continue this week.

A Joint Operations Centre was set up at a fire station and all imaginable “threats” were fed through it.

The barrage of dangers, along with confusing fake information, filtered through various security levels and was fed to the officers on the ground, in the air and on the water.

The test was to ensure that all forces could work together.

Throughout the week, the “blue force” battled the “red force” (the bad guys) in fully fledged war games.

Houses where “terrorists” were hiding were penetrated, with officers using paintball guns. Afterwards, medics assessed the paint marks to determine what would have happened in real life.

The airspace around the city was declared a no-go area and all planes wishing to pass through had to file flight plans.

During the World Cup – estimated to bring more than 400 000 people into the country – airspace around the major cities will be strictly controlled.

Operation Shield is the third such exercise and follows smaller ones in Polokwane last year and in Cape Town in March.

PUBLICATION: The Star
AUTHOR: Alex Eliseev
DATED: 4th August 2008