CBRN Defence
Mar 15, 2014

If the events of September 11, 2001 were a wakeup call to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), and to our allies, about the threat of asymmetric warfare, the recent chemical attacks in Syria were a further reminder that chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents remain an active part of the arsenal of rogue nations and non-state actors, and will continue to be a threat in both conventional and asymmetric warfare.

Indeed, military planners agree that hybrid conflicts – a convergence of conventional and unconventional warfare techniques – will be a potent feature of the future security environment, and that the proliferation of CBRN weapons continues to be among the most pressing threats to global peace and security. This threat includes not only CBRN warfare agents, but also toxic industrial materials that are readily accessible in large volumes and provide an attractive option for terrorists. In recent years, “explosives” have been added to this threat group dealing with accidents or acts of terror, adding an “E” to the common acronym.

In today’s military thinking, the concept of CBRN defence has moved from a nice-to-have in the unlikely event that Canadian military personnel were to find themselves in a CBRN-threat environment, to an essential part of operational readiness and force protection. As the CAF’s 2012 Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Operating Concept points out: “To establish a full-spectrum, general-purpose combat capability, DND/CAF CBRN activities must be focused on defensive capabilities that enable joint forces to operate in a theatre where the threat and/or risk of a CBRN incident exists.”

In fact, the CAF have long taken the CBRN threat seriously and have maintained CBRN defence capabilities for decades. Gas masks and other personal protective equipment have been a staple capability, as have decontamination systems and a range of chemical, biological and radiological detectors.

But, of course, apart from gas-hut training and routine exercises, the Canadian military has not had to face CBRN weapons head-on since the 1915 Battle of Ypres, a campaign of the First World War. CBRN threats were not a significant issue during subsequent wars involving Canadian troops, and Cold War scenarios were concerned more about the risk of the tactical use of nuclear weapons. Even in the Afghanistan conflict, where asymmetric warfare was a defining characteristic, the threat – principally improvised explosive devices – did not, in the end, call for CBRN defence tactics, techniques and procedures. However, Syria has proved that the status quo has changed, again.

“My vision is to see CBRN defence capability fully integrated into force development, force generation and force employment, as well as to enable interoperability with allies and other government departments in joint and combined operations,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Alain Rollin, the CAF’s Director of CBRN Defence and Operational Support.

Recent CAF reports support that vision. For instance, the Minister of National Defence recently announced an initiative that will make the CAF more efficient and effective as they look to the future. Called Defence Renewal, its theme is operational readiness, being prepared to meet a broad range of possible future tasks, including missions in a CBRN threat environment.

General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), has already set the course for reinvesting in higher priority operational capabilities. In his Guidance to the Canadian Armed Forces, issued in June 2013, he said that one of the priorities of the CAF is to confront new challenges such as the proliferation of CBRN threats. In the 2013 CDS-issued Directive on Force Posture and Readiness, he called for the expansion and integration of space, cyber and CBRN defence components into joint force training as a normal aspect of full-spectrum operations so that these capabilities become standard joint force structures.

In reality, the CAF began to modernize and enhance their CBRN defence capabilities more than a decade ago, even before the events of September 2001. In 2000, the then-Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff assumed responsibility to “develop new task-tailored capabilities to deal with asymmetric threats and weapons of mass destruction.” And in May 2001, a Chief of Review Services study recommended imme­diate support for the CBRN Capital Equipment Program to address CBRN defence deficiencies within Canada’s Armed Forces.

The CBRN Defence Omnibus Program, as this modernization initiative came to be known, manages a group of projects that focus on all aspects of CBRN defence capability: detection, identification and monitoring, information management, physical protection and hazard management. The program straddles the Directorate of CBRN Defence and Operational Support for direction and doctrine, and the ADM (Material) for acquisition.

In recent years, the program has rolled out new personal, handheld and fixed-site chemical agent sensors, a vital-point biological agent detection system, and sophisticated 50- and 100-person collective protection shelters to allow personnel to work in a CBRN-contaminated environment for extended periods without the need for personal protective equipment. Each project has undergone a rigorous process of options analysis, requirements definition, and implementation.

Still in the works are projects for a stand-off chemical detection and identification system, an improved decontamination system, new remotely-operated reconnaissance vehicles, improved general service respirators (gas masks), and a new sensor integration and decision support system.

The ongoing chemical agent sensors project, which procured the various point detector systems, is now working on standoff detection through the Area Detection and Identification System (ADIS). The system will allow for the detection, identification and early warning of chemical ­substances that are located up to several kilometres away from the sensor. ADIS will be used to monitor large areas such as bases, airfields, harbours, and other sites of interest. It may also be used in various other roles such as reconnaissance, naval boarding, intelligence gathering, detection of explosives (improvised explosive devices and home-made explosives) and environmental monitoring.

The CAF’s CBRN Decontamination System Project will provide the capability to decontaminate tactical level equipment of land, sea and air units, their personnel, supporting bases and non-sensitive personal equipment. The system will be made up of two modules (vehicle and personnel) and an environmental protection component, all of which will typically be deployed as an integrated system that can also be independently stored, moved and operated as needed.

The CBRN Reconnaissance Project will deliver a state-of-the-art suite of CBRN sensors mounted on small, remotely-operated vehicles equipped with remote-controlled, mobile sensors capable of collecting and transmitting CBRN, meteorological and positional data, and video images. These reconnaissance vehicles will be used to conduct missions in confined spaces. This sensor-carrying platform will reduce the operator’s risk of exposure since the analyses can be performed remotely, at a safe distance from the CBRN threat.

The Joint General Service Respirator (GSR) Project will see the CAF acquire roughly 60,000 new respirators over the next three years to replace the C4 mask and C7A filter, in service since the early 1990s.

“The C4 is still a good protective mask, but there is newer technology on the market that will allow us to better protect our soldiers, while at the same time making it less stressful to wear this protective kit,” says Lieutenant (Navy) Jason Pickering, the project’s director. “And over the years, international standards for respiratory protection have changed, as have the potential threats. So, it is clear to us that we have to look at these newer technologies to meet the future needs of our Forces.”

The C4 mask and C7A canister were designed for Cold War scenarios to protect against the inhalation of worst-case battlefield concentrations of chemical or biological agents, or radioactive particles suspended in air. Although these threats remain, there are new concerns with toxic industrial chemicals and other materials, as well as novel biological warfare agents that could contaminate a theatre of operations as a result of either a deliberate or accidental release.

The CBRN Sensor Integration and Decision Support (SI&DS) System, another important Omnibus project, will give the CAF the capability to automatically collect, collate and interpret CBRN sensor data, and to provide CBRN situational awareness to command-and-control systems at the ­tactical, operational and strategic levels in support of military operations. This ground-breaking work is placing Canada at the forefront among NATO nations.

Canada’s old CBRN defence warning and reporting system was largely manual: information from chemical and biological sensors in the battlefield was collected by hand and then entered into a basic CBRN analysis tool to generate hazard plots, as well as into the HPAC or Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability system (a more advanced CBRN hazard modeling software). These predictive models were then relayed manually – by telephone, by radio, or by hand – to in-theatre commanders.

The process was slow and cumbersome compared to the SI&DS Project of today, as its integrated system automatically accepts CBRN sensor data through a common controller and transfers it to the CAF’s classified networks to be interpreted by updated CBRN analysis tools. It then delivers the results of the analysis to command-and-control systems. The project has also procured the Joint Effect Model (JEM) though Foreign Military Sales with the U.S. government. JEM is an enhanced hazard prediction tool and, as the only tool supported by the U.S. program since 2011, is the effective replacement for HPAC. Canada is the first country to acquire JEM from the United States.

A CAF team headed by Major Nicko Petchiny, then-director of the SI&DS Project, first demonstrated the system last year at Exercise Brave Beduin, an international CBRN warning and reporting exercise held annually in Denmark (with more than 250 participants from 15 countries). For this exercise, the system was configured to integrate the Canadian CBRN warning and reporting system directly into command-and control systems for the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Canadian Special Operations Forces. The transfer of the hazard prediction data to the command and control systems was accomplished through a unique data bridge developed by the SI&DS project team.

“NATO countries were very impressed with the capabilities of our system and, by the end of the exercise, they were asking for more information about our program,” recalls Major Petchiny.

Later last year, the SI&DS Project team followed up their successful demonstration at Exercise Brave Beduin with another demonstration, this one at Exercise Precise Response at the Defence Research and Development Canada facility in Suffield, Alberta. For this NATO live-agent training exercise, the team linked a series of fixed-site chemical agent sensors and vital point biological agent sensors to their common controller, and integrated the sensor data to the system’s CBRN analysis tools, which subsequently relayed the information on to the command-and-control system. Using live CBRN sensors in the prototype SI&DS system considerably enhanced the Precise Response demonstration from that seen early during Brave Beduin.
“At commanders’ briefings during the exercise, situational awareness was brought to a new level as commanders saw CBRN threat assessments in near-real time,” said Major Petchiny. “I think they were quite impressed.”

This year, the CBRN Defence Omni­bus Program is launching two new projects that will enhance capabilities for the detection and identification of biological and radiological agents. The Local Biological Defence System Project will seek to develop a portable biological detection and identification capability that will allow military personnel in a biological agent threat environment to initiate appropriate medical countermeasures in theatre without the need for reach back identification of these agents. The CAF plans to make significant investments toward technology development and demonstration in support of this project to ensure a state-of-the-art, world-class capability. The Radiation Detection System Project will address equipment obsolescence and other operational deficiencies associated with three radiation detection systems that have been in service with the CAF for the past 10-15 years.

The CBRN Defence Omnibus Program expects to complete all of its current defence modernization projects by 2017, with the new radiation detection and biological detection and identification projects expected to be completed by 2021.

Brian Bérubé is a Strategic Advisor at the Directorate of CBRN, Defence and Operational Support at National Defence.
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