BioChem-Tainted Battlefields -
US Military NOT Prepared
Source: Chemical & Engineering News
Government Volume 76, Number 34
CENEAR 76 34 1-80 ISSN 0009-2347
U.S. Military's Achilles Heel
By Lois Ember
Pentagon's Inspector General finds troops ill-prepared to carry out missions on chemical/biological-tainted battlefields
American troops have been so poorly trained to fight on a battlefield contaminated by chemical or biological warfare agents that if Saddam Hussein had used these agents in the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict, U.S. soldiers would have been unable to carry out their designated missions, and casualties probably would have been high. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the ensuing seven years.
The Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General recently surveyed 232 military units across the services and found that only 45 unit commanders on Navy surface ships were "fully integrating chemical and biological defense into unit mission training." Starkly translated, this lack of realistic defense training means that most U.S. troops would not be able to survive and continue their assigned missions in a chemical/biological-tainted environment.
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen believes that potential adversaries "are more likely to try unconventional or asymmetrical methods such as biological or chemical weapons." They will turn to these weapons because they "know they can't win in a conventional challenge to the U.S. forces," he explains.
Easier to build, cheaper to buy, and very deadly, chemical and biological weapons "may be used and used early on future battlefields," Cohen warns. They could effectively be used to delay or deny U.S. forces access to crucial areas and to cripple forward-based forces. Such weapons could disrupt command-and-control networks and inflict higher than expected U.S. casualties. They could also influence potential coalition partners and deter them from joining future U.S.-initiated interventions.
Defense experts claim that new technology has made chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them--such as ballistic missiles--available to any country or group wanting those capabilities. Cohen says, "Iraq is one of at least 25 countries that already has or is in the process of developing" these weapons of mass destruction. He warns that the U.S. "can't afford to allow this vulnerability of ours [to be attacked by these weapons] to turn into an Achilles' heel."
The U.S. is taking a two-pronged approach to limiting its vulnerability to an attack by chemical and/or biological weapons. First, it is working with other nations to halt the spread of these weapons. And second, it is cooperating with other nations and funding defensive programs domestically to deter their use on battlefields abroad and, possibly, even in the U.S.
Part of deterrence is making certain that U.S. troops are prepared to fight and persevere on a contaminated battlefield. The Pentagon is spending $5.7 billion in fiscal 1998 for chemical/biological defense programs, and President Bill Clinton has asked for $6.2 billion in fiscal 1999. Queenie Byars, a Pentagon spokeswoman, tells C&EN that millions of these dollars are devoted to defense readiness training, but there is no separate breakdown for such training to easily discern just how much.
Is money for defense training bearing dividends? Last year, Walter Busbee, deputy DOD assistant secretary for counterproliferation and chemical/biological defense, decided to find out. He asked the Pentagon's inspector general to see if troops were being trained to carry out defined missions while employing defensive equipment that would allow them to fight and function in a contaminated environment.
In July, the inspector general's office released its findings in a report entitled "Unit Chemical & Biological Defense Readiness Training." The inspector general concluded that except for Navy surface ships, the services are not adequately training troops to fight in a tainted environment. Without this realistic training, unit commanders are unable to assess their troops' readiness to do so.
The inspector general's audit found that only 45 Navy surface ships out of 232 units surveyed participated "in unit mission training under realistic CB [chemical/biological] conditions." Of the remaining 187 units studied, four had conducted no chemical/biological defense training. The other 183 units had carried out some form of unit chemical/biological defense training, the inspector general found, but the "scope and duration" of that training was "typically limited, such that the training was not realistic to mission requirement."
For these 183 units, chemical/biological defense training was not integrated into mission training events such as combat, combat support, and command-and-control exercises. Rather, the defense training focused, for the most part, on individual task training "that was conducted as discrete training events."
The units surveyed varied from service to service. Most Army and Marine Corps units reviewed had conducted no integrated training; that is, they didn't perform mission-essential tasks under simulated chemical/biological warfare conditions. Those units that did conduct integrated training were company-level or smaller sized units. Busbee and other military planners believe that chemical/biological defense training needs to be undertaken in larger than company-size units. Another disturbing finding was that crews in Marine air units have protective gear that is not compatible with the fixed-wing aircraft they fly, a situation the Marine Corps is now correcting.
The Navy fully integrated chemical/biological defense training as part of its surface unit training exercises, but Navy air units had virtually no integrated training. Air Force squadrons conducted chemical/biological defense training in the classroom, not in simulated field exercises.
Again, with the exception of the Navy surface units, assessing and reporting on chemical/biological readiness was inadequate. Unit commanders could not determine whether their units could complete wartime missions successfully on a chemical/biological-contaminated battlefield. Not only were unit commanders unable to determine their troops' state of readiness, they also, for the most part, failed to communicate this to higher level decisionmakers.
Persistent problems became evident when Army battalions trained under simulated chemical warfare conditions at Army combat training centers. "Significant casualties" occurred because soldiers failed to properly employ chemical agent alarms for early warning and arrived at the training centers without the proper protective gear or without an understanding of what level of protective gear to employ. Decontamination exercises "were not planned or executed to standard," and follow-on forces often crossed into contaminated areas, the inspector general found.
Busbee, who requested the audit, says he is "not totally surprised by the report." As he notes, "This is not the first report we've had that indicated [nuclear/biological/chemical] readiness problems." But he takes heart in the finding that "surface Navy had done a good job."
Better protection is at the core of the U.S. policy of deterring what Busbee calls "the emerging threat." And better protection means better preparation. Busbee admits that for chemical/biological defense readiness training, "we are not there yet."
In short, Busbee believes that continued "emphasis by the joint chiefs of staff and the services is needed to improve our posture for force survival when and if chemical/biological warfare attacks occur."
The inspector general recommended that in their periodic training briefings, the chiefs of staff of the Army and the Air Force and the commandant of the Marine Corps include reports by unit commanders on the readiness of their units to carry out mission-essential tasks under chemical and biological conditions. He also suggested that unit commanders' assessments of readiness be evaluated internally and externally--and that the results of the external evaluations be communicated to a higher level within the services so that noted deficiencies can be remedied. He also recommended that Navy air squadrons receive and report on chemical/biological defense training.
The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps concurred with the inspector general's findings and recommendations. The Air Force agreed with the recommendation to use internal and external evaluations in assessing readiness, but it did not agree with the suggestion that evaluations be reported to a higher than unit commander level. The Air Force insisted that its reporting procedures were adequate to assess chemical/biological defense readiness. The inspector general asked the Air Force to reconsider its position.
Geraldine M. Edwards, one of the report's auditors, tells C&EN that an audit follow-up group within the inspector general's office will make certain the recommendations are implemented or some kind of compromise is worked out. This should occur within a year.
"Unit Chemical & Biological Defense Readiness Training" is the second of a series of studies on the readiness of U.S. forces to function in a chemical/biological warfare environment. The first focused on chemical/biological survivability of mission-essential equipment.
Although it is a given that the individual services be able to fight effectively on a chemical/biological-contaminated battlefield, it is essential that they be able to do so in conjunction with the other services. So the inspector general's office will next look at joint chemical/biological defense training.
Copyright © 1998 American Chemical Society
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