Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Fifth Horseman: Chemical Warfare Renewed AUTHOR Major Mark J. Ballas, USMC CSC 1989 SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: THE FIFTH HORSEMAN: CHEMICAL WARFARE RENEWED I. Purpose: To alert Marines , serving both at the front and in the rear areas, to the resurgence of the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield. II. Problem: Since the end of World War I, the specter of chemicals as a military weapon has faded. The Marine Corps has grown complacent in preparing for war on a battlefield in which chemicals may be encountered. Marine Corps training has grown lax and does not place proper emphasis on tactics and prevention in countering the chemical threat. Marine Corps equipment is ill-suited to protect the Marine and is not designed to be easily decontaminated. III. Data: The incidence of chemicals being used in modern conflicts is rising. It is an indication of the quickly growing trend toward reliance on chemicals. It is a subtle growth that frequently escapes the limelight. Many Third World countries have acquired the capability to employ chemical weapons in combat. Terrorist countries such as Libya are now capable of manufacturing chemical weapons. This capability also means that the use of chemicals may become a terrorist weapon. Nations such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Cuba have been known to employ chemical weapons. The Soviets, despite news reports to the contrary, maintain a large and modern chemical weapons inventory. IV. Conclusions: The Marine Corps will find that almost any future potential adversary will possess the capability to employ chemical weapons in almost every region of the world. The Marine Corps is not currently prepared as well as possible to meet that threat. V. Recommendations: The Marine Corps review its training for chemical warfare. Proper emphasis must be placed on chemical decontamination. Preparation to meet follow-on attacks should be emphasized. Marine Corps equipment should be designed to be easily decontaminated. Most of all -- the Marine Corps should recognize the real and growing trend toward use of chemicals in war. THE FIFTH HORSEMAN: CHEMICAL WARFARE RENEWED Outline Marines must be properly trained and equipped to recognize and counter the chemical threat. I. Dawn attack II. Historical background A. World War I B. World War II III. Soviet doctrine A. Offensive operations B. Employment of chemicals C. Assets available IV. Current chemical threat A. Warsaw Pact B. Third World C. Terrorism V. Marine Corps response to chemical threat A. Training to meet the threat B. Improving the equipment THE FIFTH HORSEMAN: CHEMICAL WARFARE RENEWED A light breeze cooled the troops conducting the early morning police call of the run way area at the expeditionary airfield. At the far end of the field, the brigade service support group (BSSG) was just beginning to turn to its daily logistics functions. The offensive operations 40 miles to the east, supported from this "rear area," were going well despite the strong Soviet force the Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB) was pitted against. The sun had barely peeked over the horizon when two low-flying MiGs turned to make their run over the airfield. The MiGs carried an ominous spray tank slung under each wing. In moments, the MiGs were gone. The light breeze helped to disperse the gas over the entire field. The MEB and BSSG staff patted themselves on the back, for only twenty-three Marines lay writhing in agony, suffocating on the ground. Casualties amounted to only six dead and seventeen incapacitated. They had trained to operate in a chemical environment. The casualties were those few Marines who were slow to don their masks or who donned their masks improperly. Yet, within two hours, the MEB and BSSG had ceased to function. In spite of their initial belief, these units had not trained properly for operations in a chemical environment. To ensure that Marines are able to accomplish their mission in a chemical warfare environment, Marines must be properly trained and equipped to recognize and counter the chemical threat. The opening scenario ended disastrously for the MEB and BSSG. What went wrong? In answering that question, I will alert Marines, serving both at the front and in the rear areas, to the threat they face. Historical Background Chemical warfare, the use of noxious fumes or gases to kill or incapacitate the enemy, has been with man for over two thousand years. In 190 BC, the city of Ambracia was besieged by the Roman army. The city was strongly fortified and resisted all efforts by the Roman soldiers to breach the walls. The Romans resorted to mining in an effort to tunnel under the walls. Ian V. Hogg writes about that effort: The Ambracians had other ideas; they had seen the excavated earth being dumped and realised what was afoot. They discovered the location of the Roman tunnel. ..and broke into it. A large stone corn jar filled with feathers had been prepared with a tube in its base connected to a bellows. After breaking into the tunnel, the Ambracians threw burning charcoal into the jar, inserted the mouth into the Roman mine, and pumped the fumes of the burning feathers into the underground workings. The Romans were driven from the mine and the fortress was saved from that particular threat. (6:9) The use of chemicals in warfare on a grand scale began in World War I. As the war bogged down in the trenches, both sides looked for a way to gain tactical advantage and break the stalemate. The combination of surprise and combat multiplier made gas an extremely effective weapon. The first use of gas, by the Germans, occurred at the Second Battle of Ypres on April 22, 1915. This first use of gas has been recorded: At about 1750 hours...after heavy shelling of the French areas, British observers noted a mysterious cloud moving slowly across the French trenches helped by a light wind from the north-east. . . .Allied soldiers could be seen running to the rear. . .terror-stricken French North-African troops staggered along the roads to the city coughing and vomiting up blood and froth. Field guns and other equipment littered the battlefield as gun crews and others whipped horses into a frantic gallop away from the area. Roads became blocked with men and transport. Panic reigned supreme. (4:9) In that single day of first use of gas as a weapon, over fifteen thousand soldiers became casualties. Gas warfare in World War I was responsible for over one and a quarter million casualties. The lingering effect of being gassed and the horror of gas warfare was brought home by the thousands of soldiers who survived their wounds. Such was the private and public outcry that gas warfare was effectively banned during World War II. This is not to say that the combatants were not prepared for gas warfare. Quite the contrary! Most of the warring nations during WW II were well prepared to actively wage gas warfare and remained so throughout that conflict. The fact that gas was not used is a testimony to the horrors of gas and the mutual reluctance for a nation to be the first to introduce it in combat. Soviet Doctrine The principle of the attack in depth is an offensive operation by the Soviets in response to the increased capability and mobility of fire support systems (artillery and aviation); it is also used to disrupt or to destroy the enemy's lines of communication, command and control assets and combat service support units. Whether used at the front lines to aid Soviet forces conducting an attack or in the enemy's rear areas, chemicals are an extremely dangerous and potent weapon. The Soviets are extremely concerned with an enemy's capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological weapons). This means that in any battle artillery and aviation units capable of employing weapons of mass destruction are prime targets for early engagement with chemical weapons. Soviet doctrine of the employment of chemical weapons is clear. Among the targets that chemical weapons may be used to neutralize are systems that can deliver weapons of mass destruction (artillery--the M198 howitzer and aviation--the A-6 Intruder), lines of communication, command and control assets and combat service support units. Since almost every Marine artillery battery has acquired the new, nuclear-capable M198 howitzer, every battery is now a target for chemical weapons. The targets that chemical weapons may be used against are many of the same targets the Soviets aim at in attacking the rear areas. If the prosecution of the battle at the front depends upon the supplies, fire support (artillery and aviation) and command and control provided by soldiers operating in the rear, then the rear areas must be considered a prime target for the employment of chemical weapons. The Soviets are, indisputably, unmatched by any other military force in the world in their ability to operate in chemical environments. Given their capability and past history in using chemicals or in supplying chemicals for use by surrogates, it is entirely probable that they will use chemicals against Marines. The Soviets will attempt to carry the battle to the rear area by using any number of units available to them. The threat to Marines may materialize in the form of airborne or heliborne units landing in their midst, Spetsnaz units striking from out of the background, supporting arms or aviation raining destruction on them, forward detachments of regular ground forces punching their way to the rear or any combination of the above. The basic Soviet principle of chemical warfare is to achieve surprise. What better way is there to totally disrupt rear areas than to surprise them with the use of chemicals followed by destruction accomplished by the follow-on forces mentioned above. The use of chemicals as a weapon is extraordinarily treacherous because a human does not know when they are being employed because they are invisible weapons. They are employed as an aerosol and can move noiselessly and invisibly, without warning, across a battlefield harming everything in its way. The Soviets have a large arsenal of chemical weapons available to them. A 1987 unprecedented tour of Soviet chemical warfare facilities by diplomats, journalists and military observers from more than forty-five countries gave the world a glimpse into the Soviet arsenal. The Soviets displayed nineteen chemical munitions, including rockets, warheads for tactical missiles, bombs, airborne spray tanks and even a chemical hand grenade. (5:1) The Soviets train for the employment of these assets as an integral part of their military exercises. The opening scenario ended disastrously because the Marines were not prepared to repel the enemy attack that came when an airborne unit dropped in to visit. The Soviet paratroopers found Marines, in chemical protection equipment at their desks typing requisitions, preparing unit diaries, and turning wrenches on aircraft. The Soviets found Marines performing their jobs in a chemical environment just as the Marines had been trained to do. Current Chemical Threat The current chemical threat facing U. S. forces from the Warsaw Pact armies is relatively straight forward. It must be assumed that if Warsaw Pact forces are engaged, then Soviet chemical weapons are likely to be encountered. Release of the control of Soviet weapons to its allies is unlikely, but Soviet forces are well integrated with their allies. Any engagement with non-Soviet Warsaw Pact units will be an engagement where Soviet forces with access to chemical weapons are nearby and available for assistance. Additionally, by tracing shipments of chemicals in the international trade market, U. S. government officials suspect that Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania possess or are in the process of acquiring chemical weapons. (11:1) This presents an especially dangerous aspect in warfare because it gives the ability to wage chemical warfare to nations that probably have little doctrine or guidance for the employment of gas weapons. Soviet surrogate states may fastidiously follow Soviet doctrine for the employment of chemicals or they may not; they may throw the rule book away. If they follow Soviet doctrine, U. S. forces will have a good idea of the conditions under which chemicals may be employed. If they do not follow Soviet doctrine, they may employ weapons in a manner for which no one is prepared. For example, Team A in football is on the forty-five yard line -- it's fourth down with nine yards to go for a first down -- you know the team will punt the ball away. But Team B, in the same situation, may try a quarterback sneak and throw the "rule book" away. There is little doubt that the use of chemical weapons is on the increase. News reports over the preceding three months indicate that Libya, an outlaw nation supporting international terrorism, is constructing a chemical weapons manufacturing plant. The plant, located at Rabta, thirty-five miles southwest of Tripoli, was built with the aid of West German expertise. U. S. government revelations concerning West German complicity in the construction of the Rabta chemical plant initially strained U. S. -- German relations. West Germany, after thorough investigation, has admitted that substantial aid came from West German industry in the construction of the plant. Unquestioned is the plant's sole purpose of chemical weapons production. Of the factory at Rabta, Wolfgang Schauble, Minister of State in the West German's Chancellor's Office said, ".... the factory was not only suitable (for the production of chemical weapons) but was intended from the very start to make nothing but." (1:3) Other countries possessing chemical weapons of war are Iraq, Iran, Israel, Syria and Cuba. Iran and Iraq used gas weapons in the war they recently waged against each other. Iraq has extensively used chemicals in their effort at genocide against the Iraqi Kurdish population. Time Magazine ran pictures of the results of an Iraqi attack on a Kurdish village; the dead men, women and children lay "frozen in time" on the village street. (10:7) Cuban troops are reported to have used poison gas against Angolan rebels. In Libya's war with Chad, the Chadians accused Libya of using gas. Additionally, U. S. government agencies estimate that about twenty nations have chemical weapons and that another ten are considering acquiring them. An increasing threat to world security is the nightmare specter of terrorist use of chemical weapons. In the hands of terrorists, chemical weapons give them the potential to devastate cities. Terrorists would be able to hold not only individuals hostage but also nations. The ability of Libya, or another nation possessing chemical weapons, to influence world events by providing terrorists with chemical weapons is frightening. The United States, acting unilaterally or in concert with other responsible nations, must quickly and decisively act to halt the proliferation of chemical weapons. Marine Corps Response to Chemical Threat Our doctrine for operations in chemical environments, found in various FMFMs, FMs, and operational handbooks (OHs), is incomplete. The emphasis in training does not go the whole distance. It stops short of the goal. Our training doctrine emphasizes us to be practical, to apply sound training principles, to require action to reinforce training, to be realistic, to use simulants properly, and to use concurrent training. It is in the 'to be realistic" area that we are deficient. The pictures of Marines wearing gas masks while working at their desks, or in their supply huts, or on aircraft parked on a flight line are ludicrous and only serve to emphasize the mistaken idea that such conduct constitutes realistic training. Who, in their right mind, would work while enveloped in a gas cloud or on contaminated equipment? Yet this is what our training emphasizes. Despite the preponderance of written material documenting the Soviet's concern with their enemy's rear area and the Soviets' expertise in and demonstrated willingness to use chemical weapons (Soviet chemical use in Afghanistan is well documented), we still take the threat lightly. Our training is good as far as it goes, but must go further. We don't train for decontamination of our equipment in the rear areas. We don't train for the possibility of enemy attack after the use of chemical weapons. We don't train for decontamination of our work areas. We don't train to limit the effects of chemical attacks on our work areas. These deficiencies must be remedied. We must practice decontamination of the equipment used in our daily work. By this I mean we must decontaminate file cabinets, typewriters, workbenches, repair and diagnostic equipment, and the other various equipment used by the many and varied occupational specialties found in the rear areas. We must practice limiting the effects that chemical weapons will have on our work areas. By this I mean we must practice keeping our equipment and work areas covered to prevent, to the greatest extent possible, chemical contamination. For example, aircraft parked on a flight line during good weather are often open to the elements. They should not be left open. Troops must practice securing the aircraft to prevent chemical contamination of the interiors, an occurrence which would only exacerbate the decontamination problem. Most importantly, we must train to repel enemy assaults that are likely to occur in combination with the use of chemicals rather than attempting to carry on the normal work routine while clothed in chemical protective gear and enveloped in a gas cloud. The Marine Corps needs to take action to insure its equipment is chemical-proof. For example, there are no vehicles in the Marine inventory that offer protection to its occupants from chemical attack. Equipment must be designed to eliminate surfaces that collect and hold chemical contaminants. All equipment should be designed to easily shed liquids. All equipment should be designed to prevent chemicals from entering the interior, whether the equipment is a tent, a vehicle, a radio or a rifle. Through proper training and awareness, we can change the ending to the opening scenario. It goes like this. The MEB and BSSG staff patted themselves on the back, for they had only taken 23 casualties. The staff immediately implemented the defensive plan. Thirty minutes later, after the chemical attack, the Soviet paratroopers began landing. It was a short, quick battle. The Marines were prepared and waiting. Several of the enemy transports were shot out of the sky before disgorging their cargo. Many of the paratroopers died before hitting the deck. The surviving paratroopers were either killed or captured shortly after landing. They had not expected to meet Marines ready to do battle. The MEB and BSSG staff patted themselves on the back for a good reason. Their success was due to proper training to meet the threat in a chemical environment. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1.Broichhausen, Klaus. "Making chemicals weapons was its sole aim, admits Bonn minister." The German Tribune, 26 February, 1989, p.3. 2.Defense Intelligence Agency. "CBR Protection of Soviet Ground Forces." U. S. Government Printing Office, June, 1980. 3.Department of Defense. "Continuing Development of Chemical Weapons Capabilities in the USSR." U. S. Government Printing Off ice, October, 1983. 4.Giles, John. Flanders Then and Now. The Ypres Salient and Passchendaele. London: Plaistow Press Limited, 1987 5.Grier, Peter. "Poison on the Wind, Scrambling for Chemical Killers," The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 23, 1989, Section A. ,p.1. 6.Hogg, Ian V. Gas. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975. 7.Holman, Dr. G. Paul, Jr. "Cagey Bee or KGB? The History and Implications for the U. S. Navy of Yellow Rain." Student Research Paper for the Naval War College, June, 1984. 8.Leavenworth Papers No. 10. "Chemical Warfare in World War I: The American Experience, 1917-1918." Combat Studies Institute, U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, September, 1984. 9.Seagrave, Sterling. Yellow Rain. New York: M. Evans and Company, 1981. 10. "Sudden Death From the Clouds." Time Magazine, April 4, 1988, p.7. 11.Thatcher, Gary, and Timothy Aeppel. "Poison on the Wind, Shadowy Shopping Gives Iraq Chemical Weapons," The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 22, 1989, Section A. ,p. 1. 12.U. S. Army Chemical Corps Historical Office. "Gas Warfare at Belleau Wood June 1918." U. S. Army Chemical Center, Maryland, 1957. 13.The War Office. "Defence Against Gas." His Majesty's Stationery Office, October, 1935.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list