IV. ASSESSMENT OF EFFECTIVENESS
A. Test Results and CPE Adequacy
Testing before the Gulf War established some limits to regular uncontaminated wear of the overgarments: the Battledress Overgarment (BDO) actually protected the wearer for 22 days, while the Chemical Protective overgarment (CPOG) protected for 14 days. In December 1990, additional testing indicated that the BDOs protection could extend to 30 days if the garments were not heavily worn or soiled. In addition, testing showed that garments in the vapor barrier bags with leaks or split seams did not degrade. Consequently, overgarments accidentally removed from the bags and left out for 72 hours or more were no longer relegated to a training-only status. As noted above, additional guidance was issued in-theater for actual wear. Once exposed, the CPOG can only protect the wearer for 6 hours while the BDO will continue to protect troops for 24 hours.
Also in December 1990, XVIII Airborne Corps drew attention to the fact that 44 percent of the M17 protective masks tested at a repair facility in Saudi Arabia failed quality assurance tests. In 1984, a similar failure initiated a recall of all M17 series masks. Senior officers in the Army chemical community responded that the test equipment in the Saudi facility was designed to do rebuild testing and production acceptance tests more stringent than those required for field protection. The Commander of the Army Materiel Command did not believe a significant problem existed. Nevertheless, experts were dispatched to review the situation.
At times during Operation Desert Shield, the media were critical of US CPE effectiveness. Prior to a news briefing in February 1991, the following information was offered to the press in anticipation of such criticism:
"The M17A1/A2 mask, although not the latest technology available...is one of the finest masks that has ever been developed and is being used by many countries throughout the world....The M40 mask represents the latest in protective mask technology and is currently in production by two US contractors. Limited quantities have already been provided to the soldiers in the AOR (area of responsibility)....Although the M17 series mask has an internal filter that requires more time to change than the screw-on canister type of the M40 mask, our doctrine does not advocate the exchange of either type of filters in a contaminated environment. The filter change out time for the M17 series mask has been reported by feather merchants wanting to sell their product as 15 to 20 minutes. A well trained soldier can accomplish the task in about five minutes. Although the M17 series mask reflects 1960s technology, it has been proven through extensive research to be fully capable of providing the protection level required...."
In a related issue, about five percent of soldiers might not have been able to get a correct facial fit with the older masks (including the M17 series). On the other hand, the M40 was expected to fit nearly 100 percent of the military population. During Operation Desert Shield, the Army worked to get M40 prototypes for those difficult-to-fit troops. Following the war, after-action reports observed that the push to field new NBC systems, including the M40, strained field support operations. The Army component of the US Central Command consequently suggested that only mature, fully supportable systems should be fielded for contingencies, and that deployed units should be consulted on the decision. The Air Force and Navy have since fielded the MCU-2A/P protective mask. By the year 2006, the four Services will have the Joint Service General Purpose Mask (JSGPM) in their inventories.
In the months before Operation Desert Storm, the Marine Corps purchased over 60,000 British Mark IV lightweight chemical overgarments. They hoped to reduce reliance on the OG84 model, which caused more rapid body heat buildup in warm weather.
B. Lessons Learned
Shortly after the Gulf War, first-hand observers made selected observations about MOPP and CPE. Overall, they stressed the need to plan, procure, and realistically train for operations in a Chemical Warfare environment. They also suggested ways to improve the use of MOPP in a desert theater.
The US Army 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) had general and specific suggestions:
Wearing and carrying the mask daily through a robust training schedule in a windy, sandy environment damaged protective mask carriersrequiring a call for 400,000 carriers to be shipped to the theater. Borrowing from non-deploying units in other theaters helped provide replacement items.
An Army engineer unit noted that NBC support at their post ranged from very good to nonexistent. Individual chemical protective equipment support was good, but chemical defense equipment (like batteries for the M8A1 alarm system) was unavailable. The unit suggested that units deploying to a hostile theater receive adequate stocks of NBC supplies prior to departure.
Navy Field Hospital Five submitted several MOPP-related lessons it learned:
The Marines noted that:
During the Gulf War, the use of protective clothing as described in the Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) procedures proved viable and effective. However, the first extensive use of MOPP in a chemical environment also highlighted some shortcomings. As expected, the primary weakness of increased MOPP posture was the weight and bulk of the equipment that degraded combat performance and made even simple tasks more onerous. Second, the relative short life of chemical protective clothing once it had been exposed could have been a serious problem in an extended hostility, and did bring out concerns about the ability of the supply organizations to keep troops properly outfitted. Finally, the many times in which some individuals assumed higher MOPP protection reinforced the need for NBC discipline by the soldiers, and for regular training with MOPP gear as soldiers would fight in combat.
As a result of these lessons learned in the Gulf War, DoD is addressing these and other MOPP and chemical protective issues. NBC Protection Doctrine has been modified to add flexibility to MOPP, to increase the options available to commanders, and to emphasize the commander's responsibility to make the final balance between potential risks inherent in higher protective levels, mission accomplishment, and survival. Also, the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology is being developed for all services to improve the level of chemical and biological protection provided by a lighter, less bulky suit. Such a suit would reduce heat difficulties, lessen mobility problems, and improve supply sustainability through a longer wear life.
This information topic remains open. As additional information becomes available, it will be incorporated. If you have records, photographs, recollections, or find errors in the details reported, please contact the DOD Persian Gulf Task Force Hot Line at 1-800-472-6719.
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