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The CBRN defence discipline, and its corresponding CBRN defence industry, are often viewed in terms of equipment and technology. Indeed, this is a segment which confronts technological threats.

Many of the solutions and countermeasures to the CBRN threat are items of equipment and sophisticated technologies. However, addressing the threat adequately needs things beyond hardware. Doctrine and philosophy play an important role, as do simulation and training. These softer areas of CBRN defence are as valid as the hard equipment areas like protection, detection, and decontamination.

The Training Market Segment

The Hotzone Identifier HazCat kit is a set of chemicals that have exactly the same physical characteristics as major chemical warfare agents. (Photo: Hotzone Solutions)

Technology and equipment are still important in training simulation, but few new products have emerged of late. The article that this author wrote on this same subject in 2017 is valid with little or no revision. The overall shape of the marketplace in this sector remains very similar since this magazine addressed the subject two years ago. Argon Electronics (UK) is still very much a leader in this space and provides both hardware and software for realistic simulation of CBRN detection. They produce simulators that look and feel like actual detectors, and their close collaboration with the various major detection manufacturers adds great value to their products.

Other players in the market space providing useful hardware and software include Hotzone Solutions (NL), Saab (Sweden), Prometech (NL), Bruhn Newtech (Denmark), and Hazsim (USA). Hotzone’s simulation kit continues to be a useful addition in this market-space. It is a set of chemicals that have the exact same physical characteristics as major chemical warfare agents. This much is not new; Battelle Institute (USA) fielded such a kit in the 1990s. But the Hotzone kit gives results on the major detection hardware identical to the chemical warfare agents they are meant to detect. The effect is stunning, so much so that one must take care when transporting the kit through security screening checkpoints.

It does a disservice to ESD readers if I were to discuss the CBRN training and simulation purely in terms of hardware and software. This is very much a segment where both the activity and the money are concentrated in services. Services, in particular the provision of training is very much the core of this segment and the running of training courses, schools, and institutes very much drives the purchase of training and simulation technology and hardware.

Hotzone Solutions, already mentioned above, is hard at work in the CBRN training arena. They are quite active in the Middle East, having set up a subsidiary operation in United Arab Emirates. Their current UAE course catalogue leans heavily to basic and intermediate radiation protection, and they seem busy, with classes every month. Cubic, the global defence conglomerate, has won a number of CBRN training contracts around the world. Notably, Cubic has recently landed a major contract to support Australian defence forces with CBRN training, an effort that includes some significant threat simulation efforts. Leidos (USA) has several large contracts to provide CBRN simulation support, particularly for the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

One often-overlooked part of this market space are the underlying equipment manufacturers. Most of the manufacturers of protection, decontamination, and detection equipment will provide training to customers on use of their equipment. Anecdotally, this training ranges from the bare minimum to very good, although it often depends on what the customer actually demands and pays for. Certainly, some of the best CBRN instructors in the field, often retired military specialists, work as instructors for equipment manufacturers. Statistics are not freely available, but if one were to make an educated guess, the number of training hours provided by the original equipment manufacturers is a reasonable proportion of the global CBRN training effort. Equipment-based training has its limits. The manufacturer is very good at teaching technicians how to use their detection instrument, but that same manufacturer is not likely to be the best source of instruction as to what to do when the detector alerts the operator.

CBRN Education – Military and Civil

A core component of CBRN training around the work is the professional military education given both to CBRN specialists and the broader rank-and-file of militaries. The CBRN component of general basic military training is often rudimentary or even non-existent in some militaries, but can be as much as a day or two in others. But for military and other CBRN professionals, it is another story altogether. Normally, in-house training for one’s own forces would only rate a nominal mention in a magazine such as this. But a crucial factor, and one occasionally overlooked, is the fact that dozens, if not hundreds, of such schools and institutes will take foreign students. Some do this routinely, while others do it on an occasional basis. This is not a new phenomenon. During the decades of the Cold War, the Soviet Union trained numerous CBRN defence (and, given the times, offence) specialists at specialty institutes. Likewise, the US provided similar training to the rest of the world.

There are some fine institutions doing excellent work in this arena. Although military CBRN schools are too numerous to list, there are a number worthy of mention. The US Army CBRN School (formerly US Army Chemical School – this author is an alumnus), in Missouri, has decades of experience training students from other nations. American public sector civilian institutions, such California’s Specialised Training Institute, the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, and the FEMA National Fire Academy to name but a few all have trained foreign students in hazardous materials operations, which are valuable to civil-sector CBRN response.

An interesting development has been the advent of civilian training courses in academic settings. In October 2018, the first course of “CBRN security managers” graduated from University of Lodz (Poland), where this new programme is managed by the faculty of biology and environmental protection in cooperation with Polish police and various institutes in Poland and Slovakia. Graduates were not just Poles. Students from eight other EU member states were in the first class of graduates. The University of Rome-Tor Vergata (Italy) has, for a number of years now, offered a Master’s Degree course in CBRNe, with two levels – a responder level and an advisor’s level. Cranfield University (UK) offers a CBRN defence science course.

European Efforts

Europe is replete with institutions that train students on varying levels of CBRN skills. Most of the major European states have a military CBRN centre or school. Winterbourne Gunner is home to the UK’s Defence CBRN Centre. Spiez,

Switzerland is home to ABC-Zentrum, the Swiss military’s CBRN school, which also supports civil protection units. NATO has long had a series of CBRN courses at the NATO School in Oberammergau, offering a wide variety of 1 week modules.

The Joint CBRN Centre of Excellence (JCBRNCoE) is located in the Czech Republic and is chartered to provide CBRN training across NATO. Recognising that coalition and joint operations are the status quo in this current age and not just a novelty, this centre seeks to provide a common framework across the NATO member states. It is led by a Czech Colonel, with a Germany deputy and an American chief of staff. 14 NATO member states support the centre. The Centre runs a number of training courses, and is geographically well-suited to access the Czech live chemical warfare agent training facility.

The wide variety of CBRN courses in Europe once meant that the overall picture was widely fragmented. Several efforts have been made to streamline and rationalise the situation. A European Union Horizon 2020 project has been funded to help the overall CBRN training situation. Project eNOTICE (European Network of CBRN Training Centres) started in late 2017 and is coordinated by Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) and has 11 other consortium partners across both military and civilian institutions. JCBRNCoE is a member, as is the CBRN master’s programme at University of Rome-Tor Vergata. The eNOTICE project seeks to coordinate with training and joint exercise programmes all over Europe. It also includes non-EU members in this effort, promoting access to training courses in Uzbekistan, Serbia, and Ukraine.

Taking Europe to the Rest of the World

Although this is a European publication, there are notable efforts to export European knowledge and expertise to other parts of the world. It is important to mention long-running efforts by the European Union CBRN Centres of Excellence (CBRN CofE) programme. Based on the EU “Instrument for Stability” and dating back to 2010, the EU CBRN CofE programme has executed a wide variety of projects and programmes outside of EU member states. The level of effort has been very large – €250M over a period of ten years. Projects have been undertaken in approximately 60 partner countries. The effort is organised into eight regional secretariats – West Africa, Central Asia, Central and East Africa, the Gulf, the Middle East (e.g. Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon), North Africa and Sahel, South East Asia, and Southern and Eastern Europe. Many, but not all, of the projects undertaken have been involved in training to help partner countries with CBRN situations. One example of a training project is CofE Project 61, which is still ongoing. It seeks to help improve consequence management after CBRN incidents in ten Southeast Asian countries. Project 61 held training in Laos and Singapore this summer and will hold workshops in Vietnam and Cambodia this autumn.

It should be noted that only part of the CBRN CofE projects actually involve delivery of training courses. But most have some spin-off effect in the training arena. Many of the projects have involved improvements to capacity, knowledge, and/or infrastructure to allow the partner nations to conduct better CBRN training. As one example of many, CofE Project 53 helped rebuild and rehabilitate the Afghan National Public Health Institute, to enable biosecurity and biosafety training.

INTERPOL has embarked on some efforts to improve the ability of police in its member states to respond to crimes involving CBRN materials and scenarios. (This author is part of a working group supporting this effort.) The Chemical Analysis Recovery and Sampling (CHARS) project aims to improve the ability of police and security services to recover and handle forensic evidence in CBRN environments, and is aimed to help member states who have not been able to achieve a level of readiness on this subject.

Fundamental Issues with CBRN Readiness

CBRN training and Simulation suffers from a fundamental philosophical problem in that it is all too often focused on CBRN specialists, who in turn are a small fraction of their respective militaries. An army with a small cadre of good CBRN specialists, but a very poor level of training and readiness in its combat units will not do well on the battlefield in CBRN conditions. Small or even larger units of well-equipped CBRN specialists, while essential for many tasks, are not a substitute for combat forces that can perform their wartime tasks under actual CBRN operating conditions. Likewise, even excellent instructors teaching basic CBRN skills in initial training environments will not help much if those skills are not kept up with refresher and sustainment training. Two decades of deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, and various peacekeeping missions have served, more often than not, to reduce CBRN training in favour of more urgent operational needs.

The key to the survival and resilience of manoeuvre and combat support forces in hazardous and contaminated environments is that every person and every system needs to be able to operate in those environments. Initial training, specialist CBRN soldiers trained in professional institutes, and excellent simulator technology are only going to go a short way towards making sure that infantry and armour battalions can work and fight for hours or days in contaminated environments. CBRN training often begins and ends with training in specific CBRN tasks, like donning masks or conducting decontamination tasks. But what about driving vehicles in protective clothing or directing artillery fire? The entire point of CBRN survivability is to fight battles. But all too often, CBRN defence tasks are treated as end unto themselves. This might save lives from direct CBRN attack, but it will not help armies prevail in battle.

It is necessary to conduct warfighting exercises in imaginary hazardous environments in order to gain this level of readiness. Unfortunately, such exercises are often rare. In some militaries, they are practically non-existent. Such an emphasis in training often requires both support and directives from higher headquarters. Sadly, CBRN readiness often competes with other necessities. The effective answer is rarely “have a big CBRN exercise” as an end unto itself, but integrating hours or half of day of operations in CBRN protective posture into an exercise that was already going to happen anyway is a good start to improving defensive posture.

Established in March 2019, the EU research project eNOTICE aims to establish a European network of CBRN training, test and demonstration centres. Depicted is a recent training exercise. (Photo: Safety Innovation Center)

Major Exercises

While they are not a miracle cure, exercises do help. It is clear that militaries and defence ministries around the world take this as a given, and a variety of CBRN exercises have been noted over previous years. The US Army has a long history of integrating CBRN situations and scenarios into its major exercises at the vast National Training Center (Fort Irwin, California) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (Fort Polk, Louisiana). However, the frequency and emphasis of CBRN training in major training deployments has varied greatly over the years as priorities compete.

In one of the more promising CBRN training exercises in recent years in a NATO member state, the UK’s 40 Commando, Royal Marines executed Operation Toxic Dagger. In early 2018, this three-week exercise saw over 300 Royal Marines exercise in a wide variety of operations, with CBRN tasks and situations integrated into the overall scheme. The Atomic Weapons Establishment and Porton Down, the UK’s chemical and biological centre of expertise, supported the exercise. It remains to be seen if further exercises of this magnitude appear in the UK.

NATO plays a large role in CBRN exercises. Operation “Coronat Mask 18” was led by the Germans and hosted in Bruchsal, Germany in September 2018. It included 1300 personnel from 14 allied nations. “Toxic Valley” is a series of annual exercises habitually hosted by Slovakia, with much participation from other nations. “Precise Response” is yet another annual set of NATO exercises, hosted by Canada at DRDC Suffield, in Alberta.
CBRN training is sometimes seen as an “army only” phenomenon. However, persistent chemical warfare agents can be used to contaminate airfields. As such, CBRN training for air forces is very important, given the vulnerabilities of the necessary support infrastructure. JCBRNCoE seeks to address this issue by holding an annual series of CBRN exercises at air bases called “Toxic Trip.” This exercise series visits a different air base in a NATO member state each year. Toxic Trip 2019 is being hosted in Italy.

CBRN exercises do occur outside of the European space, although often they get less notice. Japan and South Korea, no doubt cognisant of potential threats from North Korea, conduct CBRN defence exercises. South Korea sent military units to a CBRN exercise called “Atropian Phoenix” in the USA in 2014 and has a reasonable calendar of domestic training. In August 2018, US Army and Japanese Ground Self Defence Forces conducted joint CBRN training at Camp Zama, a US base. In April, 2018, the Jordanian military conducted a major CBRN defence exercise. In early August of this year, over 2000 Russian CBRN specialists and support troops conducted a large CBRN exercise at Tsugol training range in Russia’s Trans-Baikal region.


Training and simulation, while not necessarily the most popular of all subjects, requires care and attention. It competes with many other requirements and priorities, but neglect in this area could cause casualties in future conflicts. All of the CBRN hardware in the world is not going to make militaries or civil responders ready to respond to CBRN threats. Training is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Dan Kaszeta is Managing Director at Strongpoint Security Ltd. and a regular contributor to ESD.