Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Shaiyla Hakeem
Special to GUIDON
“Gas, gas, gas!”
Donning protective masks, Soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment waved their arms to signal universal gas alert. The chemical attack potentially contaminated the nearby tactical vehicles, allowing for the latest decontamination concept and capability to be tested.
Soldiers used the simulated attack to test an advanced capability for tactical vehicle decontamination against persistent chemical agents during Joint Warfighting Assessment 18, Hohenfels, Germany, May 3. The decontamination process was taught to 14 Soldiers who performed the task in a real-world training environment. The JWA evaluates concepts and capabilities in a realistic, rigorous training environment to build a ready, agile and adaptive future force.
Soldiers can potentially continue to engage the enemy, not lose ground and still be able to execute the decontamination of their vehicle with the CSAM (Chemical Self-Assessment and Mitigation), according to U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School Command Sgt. Maj. Henney Hodgkins, who closely observed the tactical decontamination capability. It can help the troops to continue the fight forward, ensuring the enemy doesn’t gain ground. Hodgkins explained the system is a proof of concept, acknowledging pros and cons.
“We know there are some errors that need to be improved, but we can see the value of giving the combatant commanders this opportunity to stay engaged with the enemy,” she said.
The goal of the tested capability will help to develop organic options for Soldiers to decontaminate their own vehicles instead of having to rely on higher echelon forces to complete the task, said Col. Andy Munera, commandant for the U.S. Army Chemical Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School.
He arrived on-site to observe the implementation of the Chemical Self-Assessment and Mitigation Bag, which provided an answer to the question, “How do we prepare forces to operate in potential contaminated environments?”
Munera emphasized getting more CBRN attack scenarios implemented into concurrent Soldier training.
“The Army is now going back and looking at the transition from COIN (counterinsurgency operations) to peer and near-peer competitors who have the capability of employing various CBRN threats against us,” explained Munera. “JWA and experiments like this allow us to test out new capabilities to increase readiness for the force to conduct operations in a potentially contaminated environments.”
Time is critical when it comes to decontamination and mission completion, according to retired U.S. Army Maj. Joseph Call, chief experimentation coordinator with the Joint Experimentation and Analysis Division of Joint CBRN Combat Developments.
Though the current tactical vehicle decontamination method is successful, Call believes there may be a more proficient, time-sensitive way to accomplish the same end-result.
He explained that the current method requires several steps. It can take up to almost a day to return from a chemical agent attack location back to an operational decontamination station. From there, the vehicle is processed through a series of high-powered sprays to dilute potential chemicals while being monitored for contamination. He said this action can take up to a day and may divert mission objectives. The entire vehicle must be cleaned, because the potential contamination area is unknown. Use of the CSAM, which contains a contamination indicator decontamination assurance system, or CIDAS, eliminates this need.
“It takes effort away from what we are trying to do, which is prosecute the war against the enemy,” Call explained. “By having the unit that’s contaminated be able to decontaminate [themselves], and by having CIDAS available, it allows to only have to mitigate contamination in areas where the contamination actually is.”
Decontamination efforts are only used on designated spots identified by the CIDAS. One CSAM contains the necessary equipment to decontaminate two vehicles and uses only five gallons of water. Call explained the process in not intended to completely eliminate contamination, but mitigate it to a non-lethal threshold. This procedure takes a couple hours, depending on environmental conditions.
According to Call, tactical vehicles are coated in chemical agent reactive coating (CARC) paint, which keeps chemical agents from soaking into vehicle. If a vehicle’s temperature is increased from the sun, however, liquid agents turn into harmful gas agents.
“You have a liquid, depending on the ambient temperature, that’s not dangerous to you unless it gets on your skin,” Call explained. “But as it heats up, a gas starts forming; that gas is what is bad.”
Toxic chemical agents can be dispersed through various modes such as rockets, land mines, missiles, bombs, spray tanks and other munitions. The CIDAS will alert Soldiers through a color-metric change as it comes in contact with a toxic agent. Soldiers are required to circle and identify contaminated spots, spray the identified spots and with chemical mixture that must be kept wet for several minutes, known as “dwell time.” Once identified areas are sprayed, other high traffic areas such as latches, hatches and weapons systems, even if it did not show up as contaminated.
“If you can decontaminate your vehicle within the first few hours, before the agent can seep into the CARC paint and into the metal, you’re probably going to have a chance of having a completely clean vehicle afterward,” Call said.
The Army will continue to streamline this concept and capability meet the CBRN’s evolving needs, while simplifying the decontamination process for Soldiers.
(Editor’s note: Hakeem is with the 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment out of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania.)