Covid-19 is a low virulence virus with a mortality rate of approximately 3%—nowhere near that of Ebola or anthrax, which are around 50% and 80%, respectively. However, the consequences of this novel virus that usually causes a predominantly mild illness have demonstrated that the world is ill-equipped to deal with an unpredictable event. The effects of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear attack could have far worse human consequences than Covid-19.
Covid-19 has also manifested the importance of protecting militaries, which need to be capable of functioning during a pandemic or if a weapon of mass destruction is used. Preserving combat effectiveness is paramount for military forces, particularly for the U.S.A., whose post-World War II military playbook has relied on large shows of force to deter conflict escalation. Covid-19 temporarily diminished this ability, and there were a number of challenges from rival militaries seeking to find chinks in U.S. armour.
Combat readiness becomes even more vital in the event of a CBRN incident, which involves military personnel being provided with sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and collective protection systems.
The pandemic highlighted weaknesses in addressing an unexpected event and combat readiness.
António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in Remarks to the Security Council on the COVID-19 Pandemic made on April 9, 2020, shortly after Covid-19 had been declared a pandemic, made the following remarks:
"The threat of terrorism remains alive. Terrorist groups may see a window of opportunity to strike while the attention of most governments is turned towards the pandemic...The weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed by this pandemic provide a window onto how a bioterrorist attack might unfold – and may increase its risks. Non-state groups could gain access to virulent strains that could pose similar devastation to societies around the globe."
NATO approached the CBRN issue during the NATO Defence Ministers’ Meeting on 21 October 2021.
Three NATO CBRN defence projects
At the Defence Ministers’ Meeting, eleven NATO allies signed letters of intent, which relate to three multinational High Visibility Projects. These are a response to important capability challenges for the Alliance and involve the following:
- Providing CBRN protection equipment
- Developing and procuring CBRN detection and identification systems
- Establishing a network of CBRN defence facilities
The 11 Nato allies that signed letters of intent were: Albania, Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Providing CBRN protection equipment
The first project strives to establish a framework for the provision of individual protective equipment and collective protection systems. Allied countries will be able to cost-effectively equip their forces with state of the art, standardised protection equipment. They will also be able to upgrade and manage the life-cycle of activities relating to individual protective equipment and collective protection systems.
- Individual protective equipment provides protection against CBRN agents and comprises protective clothing, protective masks, decontamination and first-aid kits, chemical detectors, and dosimeters.
- Collective protection systems provide safe environments that are protected against CBRN agents (buildings, tents, containers, ground vehicles, ships, and aircraft). When in a safe environment, personnel are able to carry out their tasks and rest without wearing individual protective equipment.
The project involves systematically assessing individual capability with a view to identifying promising cooperation opportunities. The 2020 cycle of this work strand focused on CBRN defence and identified concrete cooperation opportunities addressing CBRN protection, detection, and identification, as well as CBRN defence facilities.
Ten Allies will participate in this initiative: Albania, Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Developing and procuring CBRN detection and identification systems
The second project involves the development and procurement of advanced CBRN detection and identification systems. This will increase Allies’ ability to quickly and effectively detect CBRN agents.
Individual capability areas are being systematically assessed to identify promising cooperation opportunities. The 2020 cycle of this work strand focused on CBRN defence and identified concrete cooperation opportunities addressing CBRN protection, detection, and identification, as well as CBRN defence facilities.
- Chemical, biological, and radiological detection and identification each require different technologies.
- Detectors are designed to indicate the presence of CBRN substances; identification equipment recognises the specific CBRN substances detected.
Nine Allies Allies will participate in this initiative: Albania, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Establishing a network of CBRN defence facilities
The third project is called Network of CBRN Defence Facilities. Participants will establish a framework to help share and use national CBRN defence facilities, including training sites and biological laboratories. The goal is to complement NATO members’ capabilities and improve preparedness for future CBRN events.
The project will provide participants with a framework to connect different CBRN defence facilities—including live agent training sites and biological laboratories—within a single architecture. The objective is to make Allied capacities more widely available, thus increasing NATO defence forces’ level of preparedness.
- Live agent training is an effective way to train CBRN specialist personnel. The use of live agents gives students a realistic experience when operating in a CBRN environment.
Nine Allies Allies will participate in this initiative: Belgium, Greece, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The benefits of CBRN simulation training
The common thread running through all three of NATO’s protection projects is preparedness. Adequately preparing for an event increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Specifically, the third project states the benefits of live agent training. Whilst this type of training is excellent, it is not always feasible. There are a plethora of environmental, economic, and safety issues that must be considered before a training exercise using real CBRN material is conducted. There is, however, an alternative—simulation training.
Argon Electronics has over 30 years of experience as a global provider of CBRN detector simulators that are used by many agencies worldwide, including the London Fire Brigade, the Fire Department of New York, U.K. Police National CBRN Centre, and the U.K. Defence CBRN Centre. We have developed strong relationships with many of the leading detector manufacturers, which allows us to create realistic simulators that are almost identical to the real devices.
Through the use of simulation devices, CBRN instructors can devise flexible and repeatable scenarios that pose no safety risk to people, equipment, infrastructure or the environment as no chemical or radiological agent is required.
Simulation devices are cost-effective and can be used to create highly realistic exercise scenarios both indoors and outdoors. They provide emergency responders with the confidence to effectively use the actual devices that detect chemical or radiological sources in any CBRN event. They allow instructors to create realistic scenarios and train future investigators who will accurately be able to detect CBRN threats and safeguard NATO security.
Simulation training could be a key element of each one of NATO’s CBRN High Visibility Projects.