- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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