The industrial base responded remarkably well to the surge in demand for chemical
and biological defense equipment in Operation Iraqi Freedom. But troops in the
theater encountered problems operating equipment that had not been properly
tested, said Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Reeves, the joint program executive officer
for chemical and biological defense.
Reeves oversees the development, testing and acquisition of chemical and biological
detection systems, medical diagnostics and countermeasures.
Detector devices and other chem-bio gear shipped to OIF had been tested by
contractors, but had not yet been approved by the government for use in combat,
he said. “None of it had independent government evaluations by independent
Department of Defense test agencies certifying its safety or effectiveness.”
Reeves and other senior officials addressed the 20th World Wide Chemical Conference
at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Dale Klein, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, biological and chemical
defense programs, issued a memo to the service secretaries, in February 2003,
directing that no equipment be purchased by the services without independent
government testing, Reeves said.
“Suffice it to say, industry has the message that NBC [nuclear, biological
and chemical] equipment purchased and fielded to deployed forces requires independent
government test and evaluation before procurement,” said Reeves.
Reeves acknowledged that, while contractor logistical support was adequate,
the service doctrine requires adjustments.
“We’ve been struggling with this for the last decade,” said
The doctrine states that contractors normally are not permitted to operate
on the front lines. Although contracts contain “war clauses” outlining
the risks to contractors in accepting and performing functions in these situations,
there is an understandable concern for their safety, said Reeves.
In a separate discussion, Reeves outlined 11 new capabilities fielded to the
services in OIF. Some, such as the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit
Technology (JSLIST), were pegged as successes. Others, like the M40 mask-carrying
case, were deemed misses. For example, some soldiers wanted a larger carrying
case for the mask, he added.
“We, in fact, are planning on smaller cases, but recognize the need to
carry additional protective mask filters as well as individual NBC protective
items,” said Reeves.
“We are working with Program Manager Soldier on the best means to carry,
and if necessary will develop better methods for carrying individual protective
Although the JSLIST protective suit was a big hit, some units also required
wearing flame-retardant uniforms. The combination of a flame-retardant overgarment
and a JSLIST suit is cumbersome, he said.
“We are looking for new technologies and material combinations that allow
us to combine chem/bio protection with flame retardancy without losing the most
desirable characteristics of the JSLIST, such as rapid heat dissipation,”
Among the needed items are battlefield detectors for toxic industrial chemicals
(TICs), to be used at the tactical level, said Reeves.
“TICs may be present in very small quantities that may not be harmful.
TICs also present not only a difficult detection challenge, but a complex challenge
in understanding the ‘threat’ presented by TICs at the tactical
level,” he said. “For example, a TIC detector might detect chlorine
from an open bottle of Clorox bleach. While not an immediate threat, breathing
Clorox fumes over a long period of time is clearly not desirable.”
Conversely, there is no need to evacuate the area everytime someone opens a
bottle of bleach, said Reeves.
“Our challenge is to develop TIC detectors with smart algorithms that
not only identify the threat, but tell the operator the level of the threat
and actions required,” Reeves said.
The Automatic Chemical Agent Detection Alarm (ACADA) worked extremely well,
he said. But users expressed a desire for more vehicle mounts and rechargeable
“Both of these areas are being addressed,” said Reeves.
Chemical units in OIF saw shortages in decontamination equipment, said Army
Col. Henry Franke, chemical officer, 18th Airborne Corps. In particular, the
units did not have enough of the M17 Light Decon Systems, the Army workhorse
for unit-level decontamination of personnel and equipment.
“Without specialized equipment, chemical soldiers are riflemen,”
“The Army has been addressing these shortfalls before OIF started and
continues to work to correct them,” he said.
Another source of concern for the Chemical Corps units in OIF, Franke said,
was that they were often tasked with non-traditional missions, such as traffic
control and foot patrols.
Some of the evolving operational needs include defining the role of the chemical
units, which is still unclear, Franke said.
The Army sees a growth in demand for skills such as hazardous materials response,
Chemical Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) installation force protection,
CBRN consequence management, technical escort, sensitive site exploitation and
mass casualty decontamination, he said.
Lt. Col. Steve Lake, who had just returned from Iraq, said communication systems,
especially at the brigade level, need to be improved.
“We don’t have the ability to talk [to brigades] when we go out
on missions,” he said.
Lt. Col. Rick Simmons, division chemical officer for the 1st Cavalry Division,
III Corps, will oversee the 1st Cavalry Hazardous Response Team when it deploys
to Iraq next year.
He said Chemical Corps soldiers in Iraq are suffering the affects of having
to identify unknown materials.
“Some have become ill,” said Simmons.
While the response team will deal with hazardous waste operations and emergency
response, Simmons hopes to train Iraqis for the work.
“The idea is to get the Iraqi government to handle environmental [concerns],”
he said. “We will use our teams as a last resort.”
Simmons told the conference that the Iraq Survey Group, in charge of finding
weapons of mass destruction, has discovered laboratory parts, including an unused,
complete lab buried in the desert. The ISG also found a munitions facility that
Simmons said was capable of being turned into a lab. They also found chemicals
that could be used as precursors for chemical weapons, he added. The items,
however, were not found in the same location, but scattered across the desert,
The U.S. industry’s response to the war, meanwhile, proved that “the
industrial base was fully prepared for the chem-bio threat the warfighter faced,”
said Rick Thomas, co-chairman of the chemical-biological defense Acquisition
While some suppliers stocked equipment to keep up the pace with the chemical
corps’ demands, other manufacturers modified systems to provide the service
with a more useful product, said Joseph Zarzycki, technical director at Edgewood
For example, the Army requested Smiths Detection to redesign the packaging
of reagents (a substance used to detect another substance) used in the BioDetector,
an automated biological detection and identification system.
The unit is part of the Army’s Biological Integrated Detection System
(BIDS). The reagents require refrigeration to extend the shelf life. By reducing
the packaging, it allowed more material to be stored, in refrigeration, in less
space, Thomas said.
Contractors also ordered additional materials to assure a steady supply was
available to soldiers, he said.
Suppliers also ramped-up the production schedule for the M22 ACADA, to make
sure the detector was available for troops in OIF. More than 6,000 systems were
deployed, Thomas said.
In addition, the contractors set up repair and maintenance plans, he added.
Another contractor was required to redesign the C2A1 canister (for use with
FR-M40 respirator). Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the company was manufacturing approximately
24,000 units per month. When OIF began, the company increased its production
to 35,000, said Merlin Erickson, director, engineering, Soldier and Biological
Chemical Command (SBCCOM).
After a major surge in demand, the company was able to boost production up
to 200,000 units just by redesigning the canister, said Erickson. But even with
a ten-fold increase in production, the company is still facing a backorder of
1 million systems, he added.
“The critical requirements of [Operation Iraqi Freedom] were met,”
said Erickson. “But [we would have been] in deep trouble if we received
another deployment order.”
The military also should increase shelf life testing of many products, especially
for chem-bio defense, he said.
“We don’t want large quantities of stock expiring at the same time,”
There were also challenges in meeting the troops’ need for the Joint
Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology, the only chem-bio protection
suit in production, said William Cawood, assistant director, defense capabilities
and management, with the General Accounting Office.
The JSLIST is an improvement over the Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP)
gear. It is lighter weight, can be washed without diminishing its protective
attributes, can be worn for 45 days and allows for greater mobility.
Only one supplier—a Japanese firm—makes the carbon beads, a critical
filtering component of the fabric. A German company manufactures the fabric,
Congress has mandated that the military seek alternative sources to buy the
fabric for the JSLIST, but so far none has been found, he added.
Cawood said that its been an “exemplary performance by suppliers”
to meet the demand.
Even so, it still takes the two companies months to receive the beads and fabric,
said Cawood. “There are no stockpiles.”
And it can take upwards of a year before an order is shipped, he added, making
dependence on a sole-source a concern for the military.
That in turn could impact the number of suits the military has in stock, Cawood
“There is the potential time gap between [the time] suit inventory is
exhausted and re-supplied,” he said.
The Department of Defense also needs to develop a wartime consumption rate
for JSLIST. The current assumptions are outdated, Cawood added.
The lack of a Pentagon-wide inventory management system, also makes it difficult
to determine whether the Defense Department has enough JSLIST suits on-hand
to meet a war-time requirement, he said.
MOPP gear is being phased out at a rate of 20 percent a year. By 2007, the
suits will no longer be in service, said Cawood.
The GAO recommended that the Defense Department establish a stockpile of carbon
beads and filter fabric, develop a war-time strategy for future suit acquisition
and funding decisions, increase the consistency and predictability of funding,
and obligate procurement funds over a three-year period, said Cawood.