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DoD Works to Counter Chemical-Biological Threats

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 1999 – When silent, invisible toxins fill the air, service members will need to know, and they must be protected, defense officials recently told Congress.

"You have to know that you're under attack and you have to know what you have to do to respond to that," Hans Mark, director of Defense Research and Engineering, told House representatives in late October. Mark and several other civilian officials and military leaders appeared before a joint meeting of the House subcommittees on military procurement and military research and development.

(Also, see a related story on the testimony of Dr. Ken Alibek, former deputy director of the civilian arm of the Soviets' biological weapons program.)

Mark appeared with Army Maj. Gen. John Doesburg, commander, U.S. Army Biological and Chemical Defense Command; Rear Adm. James D. McArthur Jr., deputy director for Joint Staff strategy and policy (J-5); and Rear Adm. Richard A. Mayo, deputy director for Joint Staff medical readiness (J-4).

Effective defense against chemical and biological attack will take more than individual protective suits and masks, the DoD officials said. They pointed to improved detection equipment being developed to protect fielded forces as well as ships and ports, aircraft and air fields.

The three flag officers submitted written testimony stating that the fiscal 1998 budget plus-up of nearly a billion dollars accelerated the procurement and fielding of critical protective equipment. They said developing and fielding biological detection and identification capabilities is one of the most important requirements of the unified commands.

In mid-October, they noted, the Army activated a second biological detection unit, thereby doubling the Army's capability from a few years ago. "These two biological detection companies, coupled with the continued fielding of the Portal Shield fixed-site biological detection systems and the Navy's Interim Biological Agent Detector Systems, greatly enhance our ability to defend our forces from a biological attack," they stated.

The U.S. Army Chemical School, supported by the Joint Staff, is developing revised joint doctrine for operations in nuclear, biological and chemical environments, the three said. The doctrine will cover fundamentals of nuclear, biological and chemical defense, force protection measures, rear area decontamination, logistical and medical support and other areas. They said they expect the revised doctrine to be published early next year.

Earlier this year, the Joint Staff initiated a health surveillance and readiness policy to monitor and track potential health issues in areas where U.S. troops deploy. The policy links individual health records with environmental and occupational health assessments to identify hazards at the earliest possibly moment.

The military's mandatory anthrax vaccination program, along with protective suits and masks, collective protection systems and decontaminants will help ensure U.S. forces can survive and continue to operate should an adversary use these weapons, the chiefs stated.

Mark then testified on DoD's research efforts, noting that detection is the first priority of DoD's Chemical Biological Defense program, followed by protection and immunization.

Today's detection, Mark stated in written testimony, is limited to point detection for fielded forces, key air fields, sea ports, logistics staging areas and standoff detection of aerosols. The program is focused on fielding improved early warning and point detection with better sensitivity and improved agent identification.

The chemical detection program is focused on fielding improved point and stand-off detection systems to provide full coverage for service members, ships and aircraft, he said. Defense officials aim to provide more reliable, sensitive, equipment with more agent detection capability. Future improvements will include detection of low-levels of chemical agents, detection of a larger number of chemicals, and reduced size and weight to allow for a greater variety of applications.

The military's current reporting and warning system is limited to manual systems with no integration into existing command, control and communication systems, Mark stated. There is limited battlefield awareness software for timely, accurate incident display. DoD has launched an innovative program to provided digitized and automated warning and reporting capabilities, he stated.

Mark noted that one of the military's most significant improvements since Operation Desert Storm in 1991 was the fielding of improved individual protective clothing that reduces heat and mobility burdens on the warfighter. "Future protective clothing ensembles will provide lighter weight and more durable and launderable clothing that ultimately can be integrated into the standard duty uniform to provide continuous protection," he stated.

On immunization, Mark told committee members, anthrax is the most likely weapon to be used and the vaccine works. "We have been immunizing people for 150 years," he said. "We know that it works. There are side effects. They can be dealt with."

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