CBRN / HazMat Training Blog

CBRNe Capability: Better Use of Simulators in Training

Written by Steven Pike on 10 June 2024

SH Fire School Training (1)

While CBRNe capability has improved enormously, investment in training remains a lower priority than it should be. Improved use of CBRNe simulators in training is not only cost-effective but also provides agile, safe, and demanding training scenario solutions.

Train Hard, Fight Easy

A well-used saying in any military organisation is: "Train hard, fight easy." This maxim is more than simple rhetoric and is as true today as ever. However, the training task has become more complex. Hard training is not confined to immense effort in replicating the conditions of close combat but also includes capability sectors requiring specialist formation and technology. One such area is CBRNe operations.

Modern times have seen CBRNe threats increase dramatically. Once the preserve of the battlefield, CBRNe proliferation has resulted in rogue states and malign non-state actors now having greater access to chemical and radiological capabilities than ever before. State-on-state war in Europe has threatened the safety of nuclear power plants in Ukraine, while natural disasters continue to render many areas around Fukushima a dangerous radiological hazard. Chemical arsenals in Syria have resulted not only in their use against innocent civilian populations but also in deadly toxins falling into the hands of asymmetric terror groups such as Islamic State. The nerve agent VX, developed by the British, weaponised by the US, and included in the CWA stockpiles of several rogue states, was used as recently as 2017 in the assassination of the brother of Kim Jong Un in a busy international airport in Kuala Lumpur. The use of Novichok by Russian agents in Salisbury, UK, in 2018 remains an even more recent reminder of the dangers posed by CBRNe threats.

Technology and Equipment Development

The response to these threats, which span the spectrum of conflict from asymmetric terrorism to battlefield conflict, has become extraordinarily complex. Many, if not most, require a high degree of inter-agency training to prepare for deployment and operations within delicate operational scenarios, including civilian population areas and environments. World War One saw soldiers prepare for chemical attacks with nothing more than waterproof cloaks. On entering the atomic age, service personnel had little more than sunglasses as they advanced towards nuclear test explosions.

Thankfully, modern science and technology now recognise the folly of such actions. CBRNe survey, analysis, and protection have become a global frontline capability among first responder organisations. Fire and rescue departments, police services, and even health providers require sophisticated inventories of detection capabilities able to detect, survey, and analyse a wide range of CBRNe threats. Risks are measured more carefully; equipment and instrumentation are more robust, accurate, and resilient.

The Training Challenge Remains

Yet, equipment capability forms only part of the challenge to those responsible for the design and maintenance of the CBRNe threat response. Equipment must be matched with user competence and confidence. Survey and analysis must be undertaken in a methodical doctrinal process that is understood and aligned with appropriate operational response. First responder activities must be planned and coordinated within command and control organisations that can efficiently deploy, control, and coordinate survey and analysis data. The bottom line is that to prepare for the tasks of entering potentially contaminated areas, operators must be placed in as realistic and demanding training environments as can be designed and be confident in using their equipment while being subjected to very high stress levels.

This presents CBRNe trainers with a problem. Traditionally, realistic training required operators to be practised against a live agent or ionising source. Classroom instruction only takes you so far. While important, using chemical or radiological substances for training is difficult. While they may only be minute substances, they still represent a real hazard, and such exercises are not the time to learn the correct use of the detection equipment but to verify equipment and operator capability. The risk conditions have to be mitigated with controlled, regulated conditions that limit the training flexibility that true demanding scenario design requires. Training takes time to plan and prepare by highly skilled and experienced instructors. Not to mention that using operational equipment during training increases wear, maintenance, and availability, and reduces equipment life cycles, leading to future costs.

It is questionable whether those responsible for CBRNe capability and policy are giving the training challenge sufficient priority. Let’s put that claim in context. The total global expenditure on CBRN protection is set to rise from $13B in 2023 to over $32B by 2028. This is a significant spend, yet within that expenditure, less than 2% is allocated to training systems and equipment. The conclusion drawn from this expenditure ratio is that training is the Cinderella of CBRNe capability—a troublesome situation that risks compromising operational capability and increasing equipment costs.

Why Not More Use of Training Simulators?

Better training solutions for modest investment are available to CBRNe stakeholders. Much more of the heavy lifting required for CBRNe training could be fulfilled by simulation. This requires those responsible for the acquisition of radiological and chemical detection equipment to consider more actively the training requirement when undertaking their procurement programming. Modern CBRNe training simulator equipment can replicate the exact functionality of in-service detection and survey equipment. This includes their design, weight, carriage, and user operation, thus allowing training to realistically produce detection and survey data created by inert but safe trace elements and enable more creative and demanding scenario design without location or regulatory constraints.

Removing the obvious safety restraints of live agents and the wear and tear on operational equipment seems like common sense, yet possibly for reasons of budgeting and absence of knowledge on equipment manufacturers, the inclusion of training simulators appears to fall short of its potential to streamline and advance training.

Here at Argon, we work hard with end users and equipment manufacturers to create training synergy by explaining how our training simulator products provide the ability to produce agile, robust, and demanding training scenarios for both equipment operators and command post staff. Our simulators provide functional and data realism without the need for extensive scenario planning, with no live agent or source handling, and without operational equipment fatigue.

While the procurement of CBRNe capability no longer sits towards the bottom of the long list of capability requirements, there is still some work to be done in ensuring that advanced training needs are included in acquisition programmes. Given the CBRNe threats that first responder organisations must be prepared to face, simplifying and improving training can only be a good thing.

Featured image: “Train as you fight but fight safely”. First responders at the Schleswig Holstein
Schleswig-Holstein State Fire Service School.

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Topics: CBRNe Training

Steven Pike

Written by Steven Pike

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics (UK) Ltd. A graduate of the University of Hertfordshire, Steven has been awarded a number of international patents relating to the field of hazardous material training systems and technology.