The two greatest tactical challenges in warfare are reinforcing advances and exploiting battlefield opportunities. This is exacerbated in a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN)* environment. In this environment, the commander requires viable options for mitigating the effects of the enemy’s CBRN employment while minimizing their effect on his operational tempo and mitigating CBRN-related casualties. Sun Tzu writes in The Art of War, “Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy’s purpose.” The challenge is to cope with the uncertainty, not try to reduce it, to thrive in chaos using risk management vice risk avoidance. We should expect to be surprised and plan in such a way that the effect of such a surprise does not exact a mortal wound. Colin S. Gray explains in his article, “The 21st Century Security Environment and the Future of War,” that the primary reason why we can be surprised is that the consequences of known trends interact in unexpected ways resulting in unforeseen consequences. Gray goes on to says, “Trends can be reversed as conditions alter.” The commander will require scalable, deployable, and integrated CBRN forces that provide planned and on-call capabilities within the task force. This plug-n-play asset is a CBRN force asset to operate in this environment to surmount these challenges to support his maneuver elements in order to fight and win.
War’s most contagious diseases are anxiety and uncertainty. Nothing heightens these feelings as does operating under CBRN conditions. It can paralyze and demoralize. The environment is unforgiving. The goal is to protect, respond, recover from, and defeat an enemy’s CBRN attack in order to continue the fight to win. It requires technical and operational knowledge, as well as conditioning, both psychologically and physically. This serves as a deterrent to adversaries considering the use of CBRN weapons. The use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or an intended or inadvertent release of toxic industrial materials within the battlespace has broad implications that extend across all functional areas. Our enemies are developing the means and possess the will to use WMD. The effects could be more than just headline news, from preconflict political and/or military shaping to terror among unprotected civilian populations. The enemy is only limited by his imagination and the will to exercise it. His key aim is to instill fear and disrupt the planner’s mindset.
The law of life is to evolve or die. Behind the scenes, the CBRN discipline is evolving. If we do not evolve into a force asset, we will reach functional obsolescence. At this time CBRN is invisible, similar to the metaphor of a fire extinguisher on a wall: in case of emergency, break glass. To maintain relevance and develop a training and operational capability, we have to realign our CBRN structure to efficiently manage our CBRN personnel and intellectual resources, prioritize its activities, and work toward a unity of effort in support of Marine Corps aims and objectives. This force model would solve many problems with the Marine Forces Reserve (MarForRes) CBRN structure. Currently our CBRN structure mirrors the Marine Corps Active Component except in one way—geography. MarForRes CBRN Marines are not geographically positioned to adequately influence training and develop a unit-level CBRN operational or tactical capability to meet mission essential tasks under CBRN conditions. MarForRes has 183 home training centers across 48 states. The CBRN structure has 27 Selected Marine Corps Reserve (SMCR) officers across 12 states, 155 enlisted Marines across 22 states, and 25 active Reserve Marines across 11 states. Current training methods do not adequately result in the effective development of subject matter experts. This geographical dispersion defuses the training and operational effectiveness of CBRN personnel.
CBRN Marines are better managed and maintained within a force structure model. In order to effect the principle of consolidation, the MarForRes CBRN structure must be realigned and shifted from tactical units to an operational capability. Tactical units no longer maintain their own CBRN defense equipment (excluding protective masks); the need for CBRN Marines within these units has decreased. The CBRN equipment is consolidated at strategically positioned unit issue facilities and consolidated storage facilities across the Nation. It makes sense to adapt the same consolidation concept to the CBRN personnel. For commanders who are not proactive in requesting CBRN support to conduct scheduled training evolutions, the removal of CBRN Marine billets from the tactical levels may potentially result in a decrease of rudimentary CBRN defense preparedness. Within MarForRes, 0.4 percent of the SMCR CBRN manpower is responsible to leverage CBRN training into a critical combat capability. Within this force structure, the Marines’ time can be focused toward their specialty. Consolidation allows both personal and professional mentoring of junior specialists by senior technical specialists. This return on investment facilitates sustained professional and leadership development with career progression enhancing operational and higher enabling capabilities.
The most effective means to achieve an operational capability is to establish a CBRN force asset. This force asset has two vital roles. First and foremost, it is a training asset to create synergy and critical mass. Second, it has an operational aspect which, as a result of the training, is tied to readiness, providing an increased operational capability that leads to greater credibility as an augmentation force. Once established, this CBRN force asset would be in position to adequately support mission essential tasks accomplishment under CBRN conditions that currently are deficient or do not exist within the Marine Reserve structure. Realigning MarForRes CBRN into a force asset will have a tremendous payback.
The MarForRes CBRN force model will facilitate material and nonmaterial solutions to increase its capability and capacity to support Marine Corps objectives. This force organizational structure is positioned to utilize and integrate new technologies and commercial-of-the-shelf equipment. This CBRN realignment affords the capacity to provide a scalable and flexible CBRN response, task-organized to augment forward deployed forces that operate in direct support roles, as an expeditionary CBRN capability (for operational relief) and support training to impact readiness. This entity addresses a vacuum that is dragging down the readiness and retention of the MarForRes CBRN community. Ancillary, this CBRN force asset would be capable of independent deployment, which would make it a candidate to be on the MAGTF’s force list in Annex A of the operations order. In MarForRes we are training an occupational field, focusing on specialized training and skills, which are essential but do not lead toward a unified operational enabling capability. What is lacking is a fully mission-capable CBRN force asset to train, protect, prepare, and respond to planned and unplanned CBRN operational contingencies.
The CBRN force structure enhances the ability to support a multicapable MAGTF through employment of CBRN teams or detachments. These entities are formed from within the force asset and assigned or attached to operational units to conduct training or support operations based on size, duration, and priority of the threat level and mission analysis. They are task-organized according to the requirement, for example:
• As a training augmentation, a two- or four-man team might be assigned to a Reserve infantry battalion during annual training to facilitate individual and unit annual CBRN training requirements.
• For operational relief, a 15-man detachment may be attached to a MEU for a rotation cycle and tasked with technical support to sensitive site analysis or exploitation-type missions.
• As part of contingency, a team/detachment can be attached to a line company, based on the threat level, to provide a monitoring capability and integrate into the company’s operations section.
• In support of special purpose MAGTFs in order to conduct theater security cooperation and building partnership capabilities-related activities that would allow the United States access to countries that were resistant to direct military-to-military engagements but may be receptive to first responder or consequence management-related activities.
• As an operational capability, a platoon can form a CBRN reconnaissance detachment and deploy in direct support of MEF-level objectives, as well as provide a CBRN control center to conduct analysis, warning, and reporting.
Capabilities in support of passive defense CBRN operations** and CBRN-specific support to combat operations and activities are controlled and task-organized by higher headquarters. CBRN training teams, formed from this force asset during drill weekends and tasked with supporting unit training, are the means that tie the principles of consolidation and integration together.
The precept of focusing on core CBRN defense skills reflects and amplifies the Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025 (Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, 2008) position toward core competencies. Though the threat of state-on-state warfare may be hibernating, it is regarded as “the most dangerous threat to the nation” within Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025. The CBRN threat continuum itself is overlaid on a strategic landscape composed of traditional threats, irregular threats, and emerging security challenges:
It imposes friction on the persistent requirement to perform across range of military operations regardless of conditions. . . .reinforced by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their technologies among state actors. . . . our preeminence in traditional forms of warfare, our potential adversaries are driven toward irregular, catastrophic and disruptive methods. Our adversaries can be expected to use any or indeed all three methods in combination.
This CBRN force asset can perform the task that links the core competencies listed within Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025 initial planning guidance—links national strategic goals with operational capabilities in the realm of “operations in CBRN environments,” the use of the force generation model to manage predictability, and dwell and develop a deployable training and tactical capability. This realignment will increase MarForRes scalability and ability to support the Marine Corps and MAGTF operations. Such an approach will ensure that the training is robust and ensure the availability of key enablers. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1. Joint Publication 3–11, Operations in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Environments, Joint Staff, Washington, DC, August 2008.
This structure supports the technical training required to maintain proficiency. Consolidation is a sound management principle to apply to limited and finite resources against numerous or threat-based requirements. The proper integration of this force CBRN asset is the most effective, most coordinated use of limited resources and allows for a more efficient employment toward prioritized requirements, providing a capability and capacity from which specific training, expertise, and equipment can be readied for deployment quickly, adapted for mission-specific tasks, and rapidly transitioned to new tasks as they emerge. The National Military Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, published in February 2006, has both eclipsed and encapsulated the “classic” CBRN defense function under the heading of WMD passive defense. It has also broadened the scope of activities that conventional Department of Defense forces must participate in to combat the CBRN threat from both state and nonstate actors. Within the Marine Corps, the CBRN defense community is the entity primarily focused toward combating the CBRN threat.
“War is the realm of uncertainty,” and despite the application of rational intellectual strengths that are developed from experience, education, and training, one must live within this uncertainty. Uncertainty will always be the itch that cannot be scratched. Echoing Sun Tzu when he says applying “the military principle of adaptability to circumstance,” with this force asset we would have the ability to recognize the unique conditions of a given situation, adapting and adjusting our approach to accomplish a wide variety of missions. MarForRes would have a dynamic capability to integrate existing and future requirements and be positioned to employ future technologies. This force asset would address the feasibility of a stable CBRN occupational field population that reduces turnover, increases SNCO numbers, increases accession to the warrant officer ranks from within the MOS, and shifts membership from the Individual Ready Reserve to the SMCR, reducing costs associated with recruitment and training (cost avoidance). This force asset will establish an operational Reserve CBRN response augmentation capability. The commander needs self-sufficiency to enable employment of an asset. “Come as you are” is how this addresses the realities of a conflict area where everything comes off a ship or aircraft from the continental United States. We CBRN Marines are more than just “gas and bugs” guys.
1. Tzu Sun, The Art of War, accessed at www.strategies-tactics.com./suntzuchp11.htm.
2. Gray, Colin S., “The 21st Century Security Environment and the Future of War,” Parameters, Fort Leavenworth, KS, Winter 2008–09, p. 16.
3. Headquarters Marine Corps, Marine Corps Operating Concepts for a Changing Security Environment, Second Edition, Washington, DC, 2007, p. 3.
4. Von Clausewitz, Carl, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1976, p. 116.
5. Sun Tzu, accessed at www.militaryquotes.com/Sun-Tzu.htm.
*CBRN is a subset within the greater WMD spectrum and primarily passive defense. The term CBRN in this article denotes use on the tactical and operational levels, while the term WMD denotes the strategic level.
**Passive defense CBRN operations (traditional CBRN defense operations; e.g., decontamination, CBRN reconnaissance, monitor/survey), CBRN-specific support to combat operations and activities (reconnaissance, amphibious assault, sensitive site analysis, visit, board, search, and seize).