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Chemical and Biological Defense: Emphasis Remains Insufficient to Resolve Continuing Problems

(Testimony, 05/01/96, GAO/T-NSIAD-96-154).

GAO discussed the capability of U.S. forces to fight and survive
chemical and biological warfare. GAO noted that: (1) none of the Army's
crisis-response or early-deployment units have complied with
requirements for stocking equipment critical for fighting under chemical
or biological warfare; (2) the Department of Defense (DOD) has
established two joint service groups to prioritize chemical and
biological defense research efforts, develop a modernization plan, and
develop support plans; (3) although DOD has begun to field a biological
agent detection system, it has not successfully fielded other needed
equipment and systems to address critical battlefield deficiencies; (4)
ground forces are inadequately trained to conduct critical tasks related
to biological and chemical warfare, and there are serious weaknesses at
all levels in chemical and biological defense skills; (5) medical units
often lack the equipment and training needed to treat casualties
resulting from chemical or biological contamination; (6) DOD has
inadequate stocks of vaccines for known threat agents and not
implemented the immunization policy established in 1993; and (7) the
primary cause of these deficiencies is a lack of emphasis along the DOD
command chain, with DOD focusing its efforts and resources on other

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

     TITLE:  Chemical and Biological Defense: Emphasis Remains 
             Insufficient to Resolve Continuing Problems
      DATE:  05/01/96
   SUBJECT:  Chemical warfare
             Biological warfare
             Military training
             Combat readiness
             Medical equipment
             Defense capabilities
             Military operations
             Immunization services
             Military materiel
             Military research
IDENTIFIER:  Persian Gulf War
             JCS Status of Resources and Training System
             DOD Biological Integrated Detection System
             DOD Automatic Chemical Agent Alarm
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================================================================ COVER

Before the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans'

For Release on Delivery
Expected at
3:00 P.M., EST
May 1, 1996


Statement of Mark E.  Gebicke, Director,
Military Operations and Capabilities Issues,
National Security and International Affairs Division




=============================================================== ABBREV

  CINC - Commanders in chief
  DOD - Department of Defense
  FDA - Food and Drug Administration
  IND - Investigational New Drug
  JCS - Joint Chiefs of Staff
  OSD - Office of the Secretary of Defense
  SORTS - Status of Resources and Training System

============================================================ Chapter 0

Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Committee: 

We appreciate the opportunity to provide our assessment of the
capability of U.S.  forces to fight and survive while under attack by
chemical and biological agents.  Our work did not specifically
address the veteran's Gulf War illness issue; however, we did address
some issues common to those contained in your February 15, 1996,
interim report such as inadequate detection equipment, and problems
of transitioning from Investigational New Drug vaccine status to Food
and Drug Administration approved vaccines. 

As you know, during the Persian Gulf Conflict (1) many units arrived
in the Persian Gulf without needed protective equipment and adequate
training, (2) plans to vaccinate personnel to protect them from the
effects of biological agents were inadequate, and (3) medical units
lacked the ability to treat casualties in a chemically or
biologically contaminated environment.  U.S.  forces would have been
highly vulnerable to chemical or biological attack had they not had 6
months after arrival in the Gulf to deal with these shortcomings
before offensive operations began. 

Today U.S.  forces face a continually increasing threat of chemical
and biological warfare.  A steadily increasing number of potential
enemies now possess the technologies and capabilities to produce and
deliver a wide range of chemical and biological agents.  Although the
Department of Defense (DOD) is taking steps to improve the readiness
of U.S.  ground forces to conduct operations in a chemical or
biological environment, units designated for early deployment today
face many of the same problems that were experienced during the
Persian Gulf Conflict in 1990 and 1991.  U.S.  forces still lack the
ability to defend adequately against chemical and/or biological
agents and a degraded war-fighting capability could still result from
persistent equipment, training, and medical shortcomings. 

This situation is a result of the inconsistent but generally lower
priority DOD--especially the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the
war-fighting Commanders in Chief (CINC)--assigns chemical and
biological defense compared to other high priority activities, such
as performing traditional operational mission tasks.  This is
evidenced by the limited funding, staffing, and mission priority
chemical and biological defense activities receive.  Shortcomings in
chemical and biological defense are likely to continue unless the
Secretary of Defense and the JCS Chairman specifically assign a
higher priority to this area.  DOD has spent less than 1 percent of
its budget on chemical and biological warfare defense, and over the
period 1992-1995, funding in real terms decreased by 30 percent.  Our
work gives us no reason to expect DOD to place greater emphasis on
this area in the future.  The salient details on past and present
problems in the U.S.  defense against chemical and biological warfare
are discussed below. 

---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:1

Shortages of chemical and biological defense equipment are a
long-standing problem.  After the Persian Gulf Conflict, the Army
changed its regulations in an attempt to ensure that early-deploying
units would have sufficient equipment on hand upon deployment.  This
direction, contained in U.S.  Forces Command Regulation 700-2, has
not been universally implemented.  Neither the Army's more than five
active divisions composing the crisis response force nor the
early-deploying Army reserve units we visited had complied with the
new stocking level requirements.  All had shortages of critical
equipment; three of the more than five active divisions had 50
percent or greater shortages of protective suits, and shortages of
other critical items were as high as 84 percent, depending on the
unit and the item.  This equipment is normally procured with
operation and maintenance funds. 

These shortages occurred primarily because unit commanders
consistently diverted operation and maintenance funds to meet what
they considered higher priority requirements, such as base operating
costs, quality-of-life considerations, and costs associated with
other-than-war deployments such as those to Haiti and Somalia. 
Relative to the DOD budget, the cost of purchasing this protective
equipment is low.  Early-deploying active divisions in the
continental United States could meet current stocking requirements
for an additional cost of about $15 million.  However, unless funds
are specifically designated for chemical and biological defense
equipment, we do not believe unit commanders will spend operation and
maintenance funds for this purpose.  The shortages of on-hand stock
are exacerbated by inadequate installation warehouse space for
equipment storage, poor inventorying and reordering techniques,
shelf-life limitations, and difficulty in maintaining appropriate
protective clothing sizes.  The Army is presently considering several
actions to improve these conditions. 

---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:2

New and improved equipment for chemical and biological defense is
needed to overcome some shortfalls, and DOD is having difficulty
meeting all of its planned chemical and biological defense research
goals.  Efforts to improve the management of the materiel development
and acquisition process have so far had limited results and will not
attain their full effect until at least fiscal year 1998. 

In response to lessons learned in the Persian Gulf Conflict, Congress
directed DOD to improve the coordination of chemical and biological
doctrine, requirements, research, development, and acquisition among
DOD and the military services.\1

DOD has acted.  During 1994 and 1995, it established the Joint
Service Integration Group to prioritize chemical and biological
defense research efforts and develop a modernization plan; and the
Joint Service Materiel Group to develop research, development,
acquisition, and logistics support plans.  The activities of these
two groups are overseen by a single DOD office--the Assistant
Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare

While these groups have begun to implement the congressional
requirements of P.L.  103-160, progress has been slower than
expected.  At the time of our review, the Joint Service Integration
Group expected to produce during 1996 its proposed (1) list of
chemical and biological defense research priorities and (2) joint
service modernization plan and operational strategy.  The Joint
Service Materiel Group expects to deliver its proposed plan to guide
chemical and biological defense research, development, and
acquisition in October 1996.  Consolidated research and modernization
plans are important for avoiding duplication among the services and
otherwise achieving the most effective use of limited resources.  It
is unclear whether or when DOD will approve these plans.  However,
DOD officials acknowledged that it will be fiscal year 1998 at the
earliest, about 5 years after the law was passed, before DOD can
begin formal budgetary implementation of these plans.  DOD officials
told us progress by these groups has been adversely affected by
personnel shortages and collateral duties assigned to the staff. 

DOD efforts to field specific equipment and conduct research to
address chemical and biological defense deficiencies have produced
mixed results.  On the positive side, DOD began to field the
Biological Integrated Detection System in January 1996 and expects to
complete the initial purchase of 38 systems by September 1996. 
However, DOD has not succeeded in fielding other needed equipment and
systems designed to address critical battlefield deficiencies
identified during the Persian Gulf Conflict and earlier.  For
example, work initiated in 1978 to develop an Automatic Chemical
Agent Alarm to provide visual, audio, and command-communicated
warnings of chemical agents remains incomplete.  Due to budget
constraints, DOD has approved and acquired only 103 of the more than
200 FOX mobile reconnaissance systems originally planned.  Of the 11
chemical and biological defense research goals listed in DOD's 1995
Annual Report to the Congress, DOD met 5 by their expected completion
date of January 1996.  Some were not met.  For example, a DOD attempt
to develop a less corrosive and labor-intensive decontaminate
solution is now not expected to be completed until 2002. 

\1 The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994,
Public Law 103-160, November 30, 1993. 

---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:3

Chemical and biological defense training at all levels has been a
constant problem for many years.  For example, in 1986, DOD studies
found that its forces were inadequately trained to conduct critical
tasks.  It took
6 months during the Persian Gulf Conflict to prepare forces in
theater to defend against chemical and biological agents.  However,
these skills declined again after this conflict.  A 1993 Army
Chemical School study found that a combined arms force of infantry,
artillery, and support units would have extreme difficulty performing
its mission and suffer needless casualties if forced to operate in a
chemical or biological environment because the force was only
marginally trained. 

Army studies conducted from 1991 to 1995 showed serious weaknesses at
all levels in chemical and biological defense skills.  Our analysis
of Army readiness evaluations, trend data, and lessons learned
reports from this period also showed individuals, units, and
commanders alike had problems performing basic tasks critical to
surviving and operating in a chemical or biological environment. 
Despite DOD efforts--such as doctrinal changes and command
directives--designed to improve training in defense against chemical
and biological warfare since the Persian Gulf Conflict, U.S.  forces
continue to experience serious weaknesses in (1) donning protective
masks, (2) deploying detection equipment, (3) providing medical care,
(4) planning for the evacuation of casualties, and (5) including
chemical and biological issues in operational plans.  The Marine
Corps also continues to experience similar problems. 

In addition to individual service training problems, the ability of
joint forces to operate in a contaminated environment is
questionable.  In 1995, only 10 percent of the joint exercises
conducted by four major CINCs included training to defend against
chemical and biological agents.  None of this training included all
23 required chemical/biological training tasks, and the majority
included less than half of these tasks.  Furthermore, these CINCs
plan to include chemical/biological training in only 15 percent of
the joint exercises for 1996.  This clearly demonstrates the lack of
chemical and biological warfare training at the joint service level. 
There are two fundamental reasons for this.  First, CINCs generally
consider chemical and biological training and preparedness to be the
responsibility of the individual services.  Second, CINCs believe
that chemical and biological defense training is a low priority
relative to their other needs. 

---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4

We examined the ability of U.S.  Army medical units that support
early-deploying Army divisions to treat casualties in a chemically
and biologically contaminated environment.  We found that these units
often lacked needed equipment and training.  Had Iraq actually
employed chemical and/or biological agents during the Persian Gulf
Conflict, the military's ability to deal with subsequent casualties
would have been severely impaired at best. 

-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4.1

Medical units supporting early-deploying Army divisions we visited
often lacked critical equipment needed to treat casualties in a
chemically or biologically contaminated environment.  For example,
these units had only about 50 to 60 percent of their authorized
patient treatment and decontamination kits.  Some of the patient
treatment kits on hand were missing critical items such as drugs used
to treat casualties.  Also, none of the units had any type of
collective shelter in which to treat casualties in a contaminated
environment.  Army officials acknowledged that the inability to
provide treatment in the forward area of battle would result in
greater rates of injury and death.  Old versions of collective
shelters are unsuitable, unserviceable, and no longer in use; new
shelters are not expected to be available until fiscal year 1997 at
the earliest. 

-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4.2

Few Army physicians in the units we visited had received formal
training on chemical and biological patient treatment beyond that
provided by the Basic Medical Officer course.  Further instruction on
chemical and biological patient treatment is provided by the medical
advanced course and the chemical and biological casualty management
course.  The latter course provides 6-1/2 days of classroom and field
instruction needed to save lives, minimize injury, and conserve
fighting strength in a chemical or biological warfare environment. 
During the Persian Gulf Conflict, this course was provided on an
emergency basis to medical units already deployed to the Gulf.  In
1995, 47 to 81 percent of Army physicians assigned to early-deploying
units had not attended the medical advanced course, and 70 to 97
percent had not attended the casualty management course. 

Both the advanced and casualty management courses are optional, and
according to Army medical officials, peacetime demands to provide
care to service members and their dependents often prevented
attendance.  Also, the Army does not monitor those who attend the
casualty management course, nor does it target this course toward
those who need it most, such as those assigned to early-deploying

-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4.3

Today, DOD still has inadequate stocks of vaccines for known threat
agents, and so far has chosen not to implement existing immunization
policy and procedures.  DOD's program to vaccinate U.S.  forces to
protect them against biological agents will not be fully effective
until these problems are resolved. 

Though DOD has identified which biological agents are critical
threats and determined the amount of vaccines that should be stocked,
we found that the amount of vaccines stocked remains insufficient to
protect U.S.  forces, as it was during the Persian Gulf Conflict. 
Problems also exist with regard to the vaccines available to DOD. 
Only a few biological agent vaccines have been approved by the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA).  Many remain in Investigational New
Drug (IND) status.  Although IND vaccines have long been safely
administered to personnel working in DOD vaccine research and
development programs, the FDA usually requires large-scale field
trials in humans to demonstrate new drug safety and effectiveness
before approval.  DOD has not performed such field trials due to
ethical and legal considerations.  DOD officials said that they hoped
to acquire a prime contractor during 1996 to subcontract vaccine
production and do what is needed to obtain FDA approval of vaccines
currently under investigation. 

Since the Persian Gulf Conflict, DOD has consolidated the funding and
management of several biological warfare defense activities,
including vaccines, under the new Joint Program Office for Biological
Defense.  A 1993 DOD Directive established the policy, procedures,
and responsibilities for stockpiling biological agent vaccines and
inoculating service members assigned to high-threat areas or to
early-deploying units before deployment.  The JCS and other
high-ranking DOD officials have not yet approved implementation of
this immunization policy.  The draft policy implementation plan is
completed and is currently under review within DOD.  However, this
issue is highly controversial within DOD, and whether the
implementation plan will be approved and carried out is unclear. 
Until that happens, service members in high-threat areas or
designated for early deployment in a crisis will not be protected by
approved vaccines against biological agents. 

---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:5

The primary cause for the deficiencies in chemical and biological
defense preparedness is a lack of emphasis up and down the line of
command in DOD.  In the final analysis, it is a matter of commanders'
military judgment to decide the relative significance of risks and to
apply resources to counter those risks that the commander finds most
compelling.  DOD has decided to concentrate on other priorities and
consequently to accept a greater risk regarding preparedness for
operations on a contaminated battlefield. 

-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:5.1

Chemical and biological defense funding allocations are being
targeted by the Joint Staff and DOD for reduction in attempts to fund
other, higher priority programs.  DOD allocates less than 1 percent
of its total budget to chemical and biological defense.  Annual
funding for this area has decreased by over 30 percent in constant
dollars since fiscal year 1992, from approximately $750 million in
that fiscal year to $504 million in 1995.  This reduction has
occurred in spite of the current U.S.  intelligence assessment that
the chemical and biological warfare threat to U.S.  forces is
increasing and the importance of defending against the use of such
agents in the changing worldwide military environment. 

Funding could decrease even further.  On October 26, 1995, the Joint
Requirements Oversight Council and the JCS Chairman proposed to the
Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) a cut of $200 million for
each of the next 5 years ($1 billion total) to the
counterproliferation budget.  The counterproliferation program
element in the DOD budget includes funding for the joint nuclear,
chemical, and biological defense program as well as vaccine
procurement and other related counterproliferation support
activities.  If implemented, this cut would severely impair planned
chemical and biological defense research and development efforts and
reverse the progress that has been made in several areas, according
to DOD sources.  A final $800 million cut over 5 years was
recommended to the Secretary of Defense.  On March 7, 1996, we were
told that DOD was now considering a proposed funding reduction of $33
million.  In January 1996, the Deputy Secretary of Defense requested
a DOD Program Analysis and Evaluation study on counterproliferation
support programs.  The study is expected to be completed by the end
of June 1996. 

-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:5.2

The battle staff chemical officer/chemical noncommissioned officers
are a commander's principal trainers and advisers on chemical and
biological defense operations and equipment operations and
maintenance.  We found that chemical and biological officer staff
positions are being eliminated and that when filled, staff officers
occupying the position are frequently assigned collateral tasks that
reduce the time available to manage chemical and biological defense
activities.  At U.S.  Army Forces Command and U.S.  Army III Corps
headquarters, for example, chemical staff positions are being
reduced.  Also, DOD officials told us that the Joint Service
Integration and Joint Service Materiel Groups have made limited
progress largely because not enough personnel are assigned to them
and collateral duties are assigned to the staff.  We also found that
chemical officers assigned to a CINC's staff were frequently tasked
with duties not related to chemical and biological defense. 

The lower emphasis given to chemical and biological matters is also
demonstrated by weaknesses in the methods used to monitor their
status.  DOD's current system for reporting readiness to the Joint
Staff is the Status of Resources and Training System (SORTS).  We
found that the effectiveness of SORTS for evaluating unit chemical
and biological defense readiness is limited largely because (1) it
allows commanders to be subjective in their evaluations, (2) it
allows commanders to determine for themselves which equipment is
critical, and (3) reporting remains optional at the division level. 
We also found that after-action and lessons learned reports and
operational readiness evaluations were limited in their effectiveness
for accurately assessing unit chemical and biological defense status. 
At the U.S.  Army Reserve Command there is no chemical or biological
defense staff position.  Consequently, the U.S.  Army Reserve Command
does not effectively monitor the chemical and biological defense
status of reserve forces. 

-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:5.3

The priority given to chemical and biological defense varied widely. 
Most CINCs assign chemical and biological defense a lower priority
than other threats.  Even though the Joint Staff has tasked CINCs to
ensure that their forces are trained in certain joint chemical and
biological defense tasks, the CINCs we visited considered such
training a service responsibility.  Several DOD officials said that
U.S.  forces still face a generally limited, although increasing,
threat of chemical and biological warfare. 

At Army corps, division, and unit levels, the priority given to this
area depended on the commander's opinion of its relative importance. 
At one early-deploying division we visited, the commander had an
aggressive system for chemical and biological training, monitoring,
and reporting.  At another, the commander had made a conscious
decision to emphasize other areas, such as other-than-war deployments
and quality-of-life considerations.  As this unit was increasingly
being asked to conduct operations other than war, the commander's
emphasis on the chemical and biological warfare threat declined. 

Officials at all levels said training in chemical and biological
preparedness was not emphasized because of higher priority taskings,
low levels of interest by higher headquarters, difficulty working in
cumbersome and uncomfortable protective clothing and masks, the
time-consuming nature of the training, and a heavy reliance on
post-mobilization training and preparation. 

-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:5.4

We have no means to determine whether increased emphasis on chemical
and biological warfare defense is warranted at the expense of other
priorities.  This is a matter of military judgment by DOD and of
funding priorities by DOD and Congress.  However, in view of the
increasing chemical and biological threat and the continuing U.S. 
chemical and biological defense weaknesses identified in our report,
we recommended that the Secretary of Defense reevaluate the priority
and emphasis given this area throughout DOD.  We further recommended
that if the Secretary's reevaluation determines that more emphasis is
needed, the Secretary should consider (1) elevating the single office
responsible for program oversight to the Assistant Secretary level
rather than leaving it in its current position as part of the Office
of the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical
Warfare Defense and (2) adopting more of a single manager approach
for executing the chemical and biological defense program.  We made
eight other recommendations concerning opportunities to improve the
effectiveness of existing DOD chemical and biological activities. 
DOD, in its official response to our report, generally agreed with
our findings and concurred with 9 of our 10 recommendations. 

We would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.