WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 21, 2015) — The 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command, or CBRNE, has a number of units and teams deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, monitoring for hazards, Brig. Gen. William E. King IV said.
King, commander of the 20th CBRNE Command, headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, spoke during the National Defense Industrial Association-sponsored CBRNE roundtable breakfast at the Army and Navy Club here, Dec. 16.
Besides that deployment, there are 20th CBRNE Command personnel in Seoul, South Korea, monitoring hazards there, he said, adding that the Korean peninsula is considered one of the most likely areas in the world for a possible CBRNE event.
In the Pacific, 20th CBRNE personnel are advising and assisting nations throughout the region, not just the traditional allies Japan and South Korea, he said.
Elsewhere in the world, 20th CBRNE Command personnel are regionally aligned with combatant commanders, he said.
It’s important for our allies and partners around the world to “have skin in the game,” King said. 20th CBRNE Command, which is the only U.S. command of its type that has integrated its CBRNE capabilities, cannot go it alone. Partner nations need to bring all of their CBRNE resources to the fight to be effective, he said.
PROTECTING HOMELAND TOO
Here at home, the mission is just as urgent and active, he said. As was seen with the events over the last month in Paris and San Bernardino, a “lone-wolf” terrorist attack could occur at any time.
Terrorist organizations have publicly acknowledged their desire to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, and have demonstrated the intent and capability to attack soft targets at a time and place of their choosing, King said.
To ensure the safety of the American public and very important persons, the 20th CBRNE Command trains and supports local, state and federal law enforcement agencies during the year.
In September, 20th CBRNE Command was involved in protecting the Pope during his visit to the United States, King said. At the same time, the United Nations General Assembly was in session and personnel were busy at that venue. “Both events were huge successes and the Pope’s mobility was not impeded.”
Those events involved 136 teams in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., he added.
Next year will be even more challenging, he said, as personnel will likely deploy to Brazil for the Olympic games, as well as provide protection at a national security summit and be on standby for the U.S. national elections.
In all, there are about 5,000 Soldiers and 225 Army civilians in 20th CBRNE Command, spread across 16 states on 19 installations. Additionally, the command works closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Energy, and medical labs across the Army.
In a time of war, Soldiers will be moving away from CBRNE threats to survive and continue to fight while 20th CBRNE personnel will be moving toward the threat, to assess it and report all the details of type and amount to higher headquarters, he said.
To do all of that requires a lot of support from the maneuver forces, King said. That support includes logistics, ground and air transport, cyber and information technology.
To make that all work smoothly, 20th CBRNE Command has become an important player in exercises, including the Network Integration Evaluation conducted on Fort Bliss, Texas, this year, he said.
But more than that, the maneuver forces must be equipped with CBRNE protective gear and have the training to use it. To ensure that happens, CBRNE scenarios have been included at the combat training centers in the United States and overseas. That’s important, King said, because, since 9/11, Soldiers have focused more on the counterinsurgency and stability fight and must now refocus their training on the full range of operations that include perishable skills associated with operations and survival within a CBRN environment.
Some have asked why explosives were integrated in the traditional CBRN mission, King said.
Actually, there’s a lot in common with things that blow up and other threats, he said. A lot of collaboration and synergy is taking place in the labs, with scientists and researchers looking at common problems and solutions in all of those areas.
Explosives pose an important threat, he said. As recent reports have suggested, it doesn’t take much explosives to take down a plane and get a high-yield effect.
As to WMDs, King said policymakers talk a lot about that threat, but the investment hasn’t followed, perhaps because so far, the homeland has not been attacked with WMDs in a big way.
King said he has two main things on his wish list for 20th CBRNE.
The first is better information technology capability.
He said his Family members can take photos on their smartphones and instantly send them out to their friends.
In the same manner, his personnel have all sorts of sensors that collect CBRNE data, but no effective means of transmitting that data, primarily due to lack of security in transmission.
King said he believes the technology is there to make that happen, perhaps in the form of a local Wi-Fi network that can adjust its coverage area to ensure messages cannot be intercepted or blocked. Some policy decisions need to be made to make that happen first, though.
The second thing on his wish list is to have more effective and efficient decontamination equipment. He noted that it takes a lot of time and resources to decontaminate a large truck, for instance.
The technology is out there to use a special pre-decon spray that would highlight areas of the truck that are contaminated so that the whole truck wouldn’t need to be sprayed.
Or, perhaps special paint could be used on the vehicle itself that would self-report areas of contamination, he said.
Just a bit further down on his wish list is providing Soldiers with better protective gear. The M-53 mask, he said, looks promising. After using it, 126 Soldiers were surveyed and they noted it gave them the most capability and endurance. Special operators already have it.
Lastly, King cautioned against protection complacency. “Don’t say ‘that’s good enough.’ It’s never good enough. The enemy is always trying to get a step ahead of us.”