American Forces Press Service

Knowledge Key to Combating Chemical, Biological Warfare


  By Linda D. Kozaryn
 American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON -- "Know thine enemy." That sage advice is key to 
 combating chemical and biological warfare, according to a top 
 military expert in the field.
 Too often, people ascribe magical properties to these hazardous 
 substances that they simply do not have, Army Col. John V. Wade 
 said. "There is no magic there. These things obey certain laws 
 of chemistry and physics. They are very hazardous, but there are 
 a lot of hazardous chemicals that we potentially bump into in 
 our daily lives."
 Service members need to be aware of and educate themselves about 
 the growing chemical-biological threat, he advised. "Learn about 
 it. Learn to respect it, but don't have an undue fear of it, 
 because we have the best protective gear in the world."
 Wade has specialized in chemical and biological defense for the 
 past 16 years. On Oct. 1, 1998, he became deputy for 
 counterproliferation and chemical and biological defense to the 
 director of defense research and engineering and the 
 undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology. 
 Protecting service members from chemical and biological warfare 
 is a top Pentagon priority, he said. The Defense Department has 
 made major strides in the field since Saddam Hussein put 
 chemical and biological warfare on the world's front pages 
 during the 1991 Gulf War.
 "Here was an adversary we knew had used chemical warfare in 
 their 10-year war with Iran, and now we had indications that 
 they also possibly had biological weapons," Wade said. "In the 
 Gulf, we were ill-prepared for biological warfare. We did not 
 have any bio-detectors. We had an enzyme antibody-based 
 technology, barely out of the laboratory, similar to today's 
 home pregnancy tests."
 Before Desert Storm, countering chemical and biological warfare 
 was not particularly high on anyone's list of training 
 requirements. Such training tended to be an end-of-exercise 
 drill or the final task of field training, he said.
 "We maintained an interest by scaring people," he recalled. "We 
 did training, but in many cases it was rote. Everybody went 
 through the motions. You knew you had to put on your protective 
 mask and overgarment in X amount of time."
 The Gulf War changed all that, said Wade, who served as medical 
 chemical-biological warfare adviser to Army Gen. Norman 
 Schwartzkopf, Desert Storm commander. "It put a real focus on 
 chemical-biological operations," he said. 
 "If you had tried to get a group of people together a year 
 earlier to talk about the threat and how to counter it, you'd 
 have had a hard time keeping the audience's rapt attention," he 
 recalled. "Suddenly, the specter was real, due to the fact that 
 we were up against someone who could truly use it against us."
 It was a lecturer's dream, Wade said. "I'd go into a large 
 combat support hospital with a couple hundred people crowded 
 into a tent, and I could talk until my voice gave out. They hung 
 on every word. They wanted to know how to cope with casualties 
 and how to avoid becoming casualties themselves."
 Since Desert Storm, Wade said, the military has made marked 
 progress on two fronts -- awareness and technology. Units now 
 train more frequently with chemical and biological defense 
 equipment that, in the past, was locked away and issued only 
 occasionally. Today, service members do their jobs while wearing 
 protective equipment. "We're busting it out of the package and 
 learning how to use it comfortably," he said. 
 Chemical-biological defense has been more fully integrated into 
 training programs. "This is now just another facet of being a 
 soldier, sailor, airman or Marine that you have to assimilate 
 into the rest of your military skills," Wade said. "We realized 
 that's how we're going to fight, so we started training that 
 way. Even the basic block of training on personal protection is 
 far more robust now than when I entered the service 22 years 
 Pentagon officials also focused on acquiring better personal 
 protective equipment. "We now have the best equipment on the 
 planet, bar none," Wade said. "Our new M-40 series masks are 
 excellent. They're lighter, more user friendly and more 
 "The old chemical protective suit was bulky, heavy and charcoal-
 based," Wade noted. "It absorbed everything. You couldn't lie 
 down in it on a wet rifle range. You could wear it once. You 
 couldn't launder it." The new suit used by the services is 
 lighter, washable and made of a high-tech material that doesn't 
 rely on absorbent charcoal, he said.
 During Desert Storm, the military had limited detection 
 capabilities, particularly in the area of biological agents, 
 Wade said. "We talked about 'chemical,' but 'biological' was 
 like the box under the bed that you knew was there but didn't 
 have the nerve to open." Prior to 1990, most people could not 
 have even named a biological warfare agent, he said. "Based on 
 the tremendous media exposure that we received in the Gulf, most 
 people would now immediately rattle off 'anthrax.'"
 The military has worked hard to improve its detection 
 capabilities. It developed detectors tailored specifically for 
 ground and naval forces and able to detect incoming agents at 
 greater distances, Wade said.
 "Today we have the Improved Chemical Agent Monitor and the 
 Automatic Chemical Agent Detector and Alarm. These are much 
 better than the alarms we had in the Gulf," he said. "These new 
 systems have a lower false positive rate, better sensitivity and 
 better discrimination between agents."
 Today's detectors, and the next generation, are "exquisitely 
 sensitive -- we're talking a factor of somewhere around 1,000 to 
 10,000 times more sensitive than what will actually cause you 
 harm," Wade said. And, he noted, sensitivity equates to time -- 
 the sooner you detect a cloud of agent coming, the more time you 
 have to get into your mask and suit.
 "In the future, we're going to go a step further," Wade said. 
 The services are developing joint requirements and detection 
 systems, such as a joint-service lightweight chemical agent 
 detector that will be smaller, lighter and require less 
 maintenance than current equipment. "There's a lot more solid-
 state technology going into it."
 Detectors will be tied together into network arrays. More than 
 one alarm will confirm an attack, Wade said. A joint warning and 
 reporting network also is in the early development stage that 
 would have all the detectors talking to each other, he added. 
 "Within our chemical-biological community, we didn't have any 
 real good organic communication, so there were some time lags in 
 passing along warnings. Alarms would go off, but units couldn't 
 talk to other units in a timely fashion to confirm their 
 Many detection systems, particularly bio-detectors, will be 
 located at higher echelons, Wade said. Technologies such as 
 sensor arrays may not be evident to the service member at the 
 squad or company level. 
 "There's going to be a bigger umbrella of detection capability 
 that includes a warning and reporting system, not a device 
 sitting outside your perimeter that you service twice a day," he 
 said. "That may take a little bit of a mental adjustment on 
 everyone's part.
 Overall, he said, the chemical-biological defense program has 
 shown real growth, particularly in procurement. "We are a 
 threat-based program that is addressing validated warfighter 
 needs," Wade said. "If you looked at where we were in the Gulf, 
 we could probably provide 30 percent of the equipment and 
 material necessary for two major contingencies.
 "Now, within our projected five-year budget, we will be able to 
 meet more than 70 percent of that requirement," he continued. 
 "We have a lot of equipment ready to go. Most units are familiar 
 with it, they're comfortable with it and they're training with 
 Wade advised service members to become familiar with the new 
 technology as it's fielded -- "and we are fielding more new 
 equipment all the time."