January 2018

CBRN Companies

Creating capability and increasing readiness
Volume 102, Issue 1
A Marine from III MEF wearing a Level B suit during testing.
LCpl Savannah Mesimer

CBRN defense specialists in the Marine Corps, both officer and enlisted, are not adequately structured nor equipped to effectively support the Operating Forces. This is particularly true when assessed against present realities, imminent threats, and the Marine Corps’ future operating concept. Forming CBRN companies at the MEF level has the potential to address existing capability gaps and training and readiness shortfalls and, more effectively, support the future MAGTF. The following is a proposed mission statement for these companies:

The mission of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) Company is to train, support, augment, and enable the MAGTF to conduct all assigned missions in a CBRN environment. The Company also provides trained and equipped CBRN personnel to support joint and/or combined forces, special operations forces, installations, and other government agencies by planning, training, detecting, locating, accessing, reporting, sustaining momentum, preserving combat power, recovering, exploiting, and decontaminating all CBRN hazards that present a threat to operations and personnel.

In September 2016, LtGen Ron L. Bailey, DC/PP&O, challenged the CBRN community to embrace the 37th Commandant’s guidance to remain adaptive and innovative. With an eye toward Future Force 2025, this article addresses some critical issues regarding CBRN training and readiness across the force and proposes a possible future solution to these issues.

In an effort to address the shortfalls in CBRN support and readiness, III MEF leveraged Exercise KEY RESOLVE 2017 to test and evaluate the concept of a CBRN company. Supporting combined Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) and U.S. Marine Corps maneuver units during an amphibious assault, the 3d CBRN Company was built into the United States Forces Korea (USFK) exercise simulation, displayed on the common operational picture, and controlled by the Tactical Exercise Control Group. While limited in scale and scope, the evaluation did prove the concept has potential. But what would a CBRN company look like, and how exactly would it provide value to the MAGTF and across joint and combined forces?

Conceptually, the company would be formed by reallocating a portion of the existing MEF CBRN structure and placing 120 to 150 CBRN Marines under the MEF Information Group (MIG). As currently envisioned, the company would consist of four to five 30-person platoons and a headquarters platoon and would be equipped with vehicles currently in the Marine Corps inventory but specially outfitted for CBRN support operations. To mimic this notional unit, III MEF designed and built capabilities to perform the following functions:

1) Mounted on-the-move CBRN reconnaissance and surveillance.

2) Route decontamination.

3) Decontamination support to maneuver units.

4) Tactical site exploitation (TSE) of enemy weapons of mass destruction (WMD) sites.

The vehicles loaded into the simulation included various models of the HMMWV, M-105 trailers, and the armored P-19A, referred to locally as the P-19 CBRN Mod 1. Additional simulated, enabling technology consisted of the SEC Falcon 4G Chem/Bio detection system and Joint Chemical Agent Detectors (JCAD), fitted into the Communications Adapter Kits (CAKs), which were externally mounted on several vehicles. These systems, or similar technologies, would be needed to provide an operational unit the standoff on-the-move detection and enhanced surveillance capability.

CBRN reconnaissance and surveillance (CBRN R&S) capabilities are distinct but complementary. Like all reconnaissance missions, CBRN reconnaissance has finite objectives and uses active means to meet mission requirements, whereas surveillance is passive and continuous. When used together, they can create a synergy of greater value than when used separately (see MCRP 10-10E.7, Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, And Procedures for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Reconnaissance and Surveillance, (Washington, DC: HQMC, March 2013). CBRN R&S directly supports contamination avoidance, thus maintaining momentum on the battlefield, enabling enhanced personnel and equipment protection, and reducing drain on combat power by decreasing the need to conduct decontamination operations. Being able to detect contamination and/or hazards forward of maneuver units, especially along main supply routes, restricted terrain, and canalized areas, will enable contamination avoidance and provide options to commanders. In 2009, the Marine Corps divested from the M-93 Fox CBRN reconnaissance vehicle, and no CBRN vehicular capability currently exists within the MAGTF. While the Fox provided limited capabilities, it lacked the ability to detect biological agents, could not do standoff detection on the move, was difficult to support logistically, and had no decontamination capability. The creation of a CBRN company with common vehicles and advanced sensors would fill this shortfall and provide additional enhanced capabilities.

Route decontamination is a specific, limited form of terrain decontamination that is focused exclusively on maintaining mobility and momentum. Contamination avoidance is the ideal means to deal with contamination on a battlefield; however, it is not always an option. The enemy will employ persistent chemical agents, in attempts to limit our movement and delay our advance, and will target those routes and terrain that restrict our mobility. In the event that a MAGTF unit encounters contamination in canalized terrain, no capability exists to rapidly open a clean route through the contaminated area. The CBRN company, outfitted with a modified P-19A vehicle, will be able to quickly decontaminate a narrow corridor through which maneuver forces can continue without contaminating vehicles and personnel, spreading contamination, and negating the requirement for future decontamination operations. There is precedence to this approach as our allies in the Japanese Self-Defense Force and ROKMC have proven this capability and employed specialized vehicles to conduct terrain decontamination. The CBRN company would be able to support this mission, and others, with a multi-mission vehicle based on the P-19A and other enablers.

The MCRP 10-10E.3, Multi-Service Doctrine for CBRN Operations, (Washington, DC: HQMC, July 2011) states that CBRN units should be structured by drawing as little support as possible from supported commanders’ assets. A CBRN company would provide the core enablers to facilitate a unit’s ability to decontaminate itself by reducing the number of personnel that a unit would need to provide and the equipment the unit would be required to move around the battlefield. Combined with the elimination of static, pre-established decontamination sites, it increases momentum and combat power. A CBRN company would maintain the needed capabilities to rapidly move forward to support a contaminated unit, deliver organic equipment to support the unit’s trained decontamination teams, provide CBRN subject-matter experts to supervise and aid in decontamination operations, and provide limited logistics support to re-equip the unit with protection, detection, and immediate decontamination consumables in order to restore affected units’ operational capability. While this runs counter to doctrine, the ability to move independently through the battlespace to support multiple units will create and maintain momentum, eliminate the need for contaminated units to move several miles to previously identified decontamination sites, and reduce the need to pull other maneuver forces to support decontamination operations.  Current plans strip a commander of a significant amount of combat power and leave fixed decontamination sites vulnerable to targeting.  This capability will provide rapid response to affected units, reduce time needed to reconstitute combat power, and increase flexibility in planning and execution.

As identified in KEY RESOLVE and other large-scale exercises, the Marine Corps will be expected to seize WMD-related sites, conduct TSE of those sites to assist the Combined Joint Interagency Coordination Group (CJIACG) in determining the prioritization of limited theater-level assets, and provide support to WMD elimination operations. While ground combat units will secure these sites, CBRN Marines will be tasked to provide force protection to ground units, conduct the TSE, and support elimination operations. The competency for conducting these missions is currently located at each major subordinate command CBRN platoon of the MEF (MAW, MLG, and MarDiv) and at the MEU. These CBRN Marines are enabled by the dismounted reconnaissance—sets, kits, and outfits and fielded gas chromatography—mass spectrometry systems. As structured, these platoons have no organic ground-transportation assets and no ability to rapidly move personnel and equipment where needed. The CBRN company would absorb both the personnel and equipment of the major subordinate command platoons and provide general support to the entire MEF; would have the ability to organically move assets where and when needed without negatively effecting combat or logistics units; and, more importantly, would provide immediate response to seized WMD-related sites. A ground combat unit, tasked to secure a WMD site, would be required to provide security to the entire site, many of which are large enough to make a battalion-sized unit necessary. The CBRN company would be able to quickly conduct a TSE and determine the exact extent of the site and aid the commander in identifying security requirements (platoon versus battalion), freeing up forces and reducing loss of combat power. Finally, while the mission to handle WMD sites traditionally falls on larger, specially equipped U.S. Army units, primarily the 20th CBRNE Battalion, CJIACG recognizes that, while they have the capability, they lack the capacity and will require support from Marine Corps units.

Beyond combat operations, a CBRN company provides several other capabilities and enablers that would benefit the Operating Forces. First, the company could provide, as needed, training support to regiments/groups across the MEF in the completion of annual individual, team, and unit-level CBRN training as identified in MCO 3400.3, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Training Requirements, (Washington, DC: HQMC, December 2011) and training to mission-essential tasks under CBRN conditions. This in no way would negate a commander’s responsibility to train his unit; it would only enhance the commander’s ability to do so and to ensure the unit is fully prepared to succeed under CBRN conditions. Second, the CBRN Marines assigned to the company could be integrated with the consolidated storage program at the local unit issue facilities. This would put CBRN Marines back with the equipment now stored and maintained by contractors and would put in place the means for the MEF commander to have “eyes on” his CBRN equipment through the Joint Program Executive Office Chemical and Biological Defense Enterprise Fielding and Surveillance program, a mission previously conducted by the equipment assessment units of the past. The consolidation of CBRN Marines would also reduce the number of DR-SKO sets required, further reducing maintenance costs. Additionally, the company could deliver immediate response to installation and host-nation first responders if additional support to hazardous-material emergencies were needed, assist in DOD support to civil authorities, and provide forces during an international CBRN response. Furthermore, instead of forming an ad hoc unit, a fully trained and equipped force would be available to respond to a Tomodachi-like event, or other humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions, when the need again rises. Finally, a company would have their own table of organization and equipment, making deployment of capabilities more efficient. As expressed in MCO 3000.18B, Force Deployment Planning and Execution Manual, (Washington, DC: HQMC), company-sized units can be identified and registered in the time-phased force and deployment data of the Joint Operations Planning Execution System and deployed similarly to explosive ordnance disposal companies.

CBRN companies would be organized to plan, coordinate, and supervise all CBRN support to the MEF and its subordinate commands. They would be structured and equipped to facilitate task organization for operations conducted by the division, MLG, MAW, and MEUs in support of MAGTF operations. They would be force multipliers on the battlefield and in the joint world, providing scalable capability to all levels of the MAGTF as well as a capability to special operations forces in theater. The time for forming CBRN companies is now.

CWO4 Joy is assigned to III MEF.