Gulf War Lessons Guide Today's Forces

WASHINGTON, April 20, 1998 (GulfLINK) - MOPP gear, M256 kits, Fox vehicles, M8 detectors, M17 gas masks. Just the mention of this protective equipment can conjure up powerful images for veterans of the Gulf War-because it was during the Gulf War that the threat of chemical and biological agent attacks went from being part of a training exercise to reality.

Even as the war was coming to a close, analysts were evaluating the performance of the protective equipment used by each branch of the military in the Gulf. While they found most of the equipment performed well, they also discovered each of the military services had a different approach to force protection. In response, the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Defense Board was established to consolidate, coordinate and integrate the chemical and biological defense requirements of each of the services into a single Defense Department chemical and biological defense program.

When the NBC Defense Board was instituted in 1996, the Secretary of Defense designated the Army as Executive Agent, responsible for coordinating, integrating and reviewing all services chemical and biological programs. Army Maj. Tony Francis is a systems integrator in the Army's Chemical and NBC Defense Division. He says the people he works with in the Pentagon are charged with making sure the right chemical and biological defensive equipment gets in the hands of the service members in the field. And he says, while the Army has the lead as Executive Agent, it's got the support of all the services.

"[Since the Gulf War] the other services have come on tremendously and said, 'Yes, we recognize NBC as a threat and we want to work to help the readiness of all the services,'" Francis says.

The Secretary of Defense believes a real threat exists. When the Quadrennial Defense Review, a blueprint for America's defense, was unveiled last year, a significant part of the document dealt with NBC defense and force protection. That carried over into the DoD budget submission for the next five years where $1 billion was earmarked for NBC defense. Francis explains approximately $732 million is slated for passive NBC defense, chemical protection suits, boots, gloves, and chemical detectors, decontamination and collective protection equipment.

"The rest of the money is given toward active defense programs. In other words, stopping the missiles, stopping the chemical and biological weapons before they ever get to us," he says.

Under the Joint NBC Defense Board is the Joint Service Materiel Group, which oversees the research, development, acquisition and evaluation of new equipment, and the Joint Service Integration Group, which oversees the coordination and integration of service priorities for chemical and biological equipment. Francis says the key to the success enjoyed by the group is careful planning.

"If we do it right at the beginning, when we address our requirements, we can develop something that'll answer the needs of just about everybody without sacrificing mission effectiveness," Francis says.

He says that planning was put to the test when the group began to address the issue of detectors. Francis explained that, due to varying mission requirements, 44 different detectors were used or being developed by the services during the Gulf War.

"Our future alarm, the replacement to the M8 chemical agent alarm, is the ACADA, the automatic chemical agent detector alarm. All four services came together and listed their requirements ... and we've got a system in place that's about to be fielded in this fiscal year that's going to provide the new detector to all four services," says Francis.

"It is a real success story because we've been able to pull everyone together and come up with one alarm for all four services."

He says the new detector is slightly larger than a pocket cassette tape player and is more accurate than detectors used in the past.

"We've been able to use technology to develop a detector that's small enough that can fit on a person by clipping it onto their web gear," Francis says. He adds the detector is easily adapted to multiple mission requirements because it's able to overcome most size and weight restrictions.

Francis also says the services will soon go from having seven protective masks during the Gulf War to a goal of having only two masks for all the services and reducing the number of protective suits from five to one.

Francis noted the role medical protection plays in developing defensive measures against biological and chemical weapons. He said the medical teams were instrumental in overcoming a serious shortcoming during the Gulf War, namely immunization tracking. With the latest technological advances, that's no longer an issue for today's forces. The Surgeon General of the Army, Lt. Gen. Ronald Blanck, spoke about the new tracking system at a recent DoD news briefing.

"The Army, Navy, and Air Force all have systems that allow the input at the site, at the time," he said. "When a member of the service gets their immunization, it is entered into this tracking system and then is stored centrally in the DEERS [Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System] database."

Blanck says the system is so sophisticated that a Marine could receive the first vaccine at an Army health clinic in Kuwait and then, if sent to a Navy ship or an Air Force base, could receive additional immunizations in the series because the information would be automatically downloaded into the local system.

Francis says the lessons learned from the Gulf War all point to one thing.

"I think each of the services are taking the threat more seriously. Each of them are doing more training and adding more emphasis to upgrading their equipment," he says