CBRN: Supporting the Future Sustainment Force

By James M. Mike CressDecember 14, 2022

A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to the Brigade Headquarters for the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, moves forward in full MOPP gear while coming under simulated gas attack during exercise Combined Resolve XI in Hohenfels,...
A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to the Brigade Headquarters for the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, moves forward in full MOPP gear while coming under simulated gas attack during exercise Combined Resolve XI in Hohenfels, Germany, Dec. 7, 2018. CBRXI at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center is the final exercise in unit's rotation in support of Atlantic Resolve in Europe, which evaluates the interoperability of U.S. Forces with their NATO allies and partners. (Photo Credit: Photo by Staff Sgt. Ron Lee) VIEW ORIGINAL

When comparing the U.S. military to other countries, discussions usually revolve around the importance of the semi-automatic battle rifle, the medium battle tank, or the medium artillery piece. Although often overlooked, the real winner of the last peer-to-peer conflict was the military cargo truck. The Third Army moved across Europe during World War II only because the famed “Red Ball Express” trucks kept it supplied. At one point, 28 divisions were advancing across France and Belgium, and each required 750 tons of supplies daily. They were supported by 132 truck companies, consisting of 5,958 vehicles carrying 12,342 tons of supplies during the first five days of operation following the Normandy invasion of Europe.

Logistics will be just as critical, if not more so, in a future conflict. For example, a mechanized infantry company of 14 vehicles requires approximately 2,330 gallons of fuel per 24 hours. The ammunition load requires even more space than fuel, and that doesn’t take into account the other items needed like water, other sustenance items, clothing and individual items, medical supplies, and repair parts. The movement of supplies to support a brigade combat team is a massive undertaking. The delivery of supplies at the right place and the right time is critical. One has only to observe the recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia to appreciate the potential of a stalled sustainment effort and the serious impact that could have upon operations. Stalled or halted convoys make great targets.

A future peer competitor can be expected to use technology applications that did not exist a generation ago. The widespread use of unmanned aerial systems combined with microelectronics enabling all-weather 24/7 target identification, precision engagement, and rapidly massed long-range fires change the lethality of the battlefield. In some theaters, air superiority may exist only for short periods. While that presents a significant challenge, the integration of chemical agents by a threat force could easily make it much worse.

Chemical warfare agents have lethal effects, but an often underappreciated impact is the degradation caused by the need to protect from those effects. In the early 1980s, there was a concern about the impact of chemical attacks on combat operations. A series of experiments were conducted examining collective tasks for combined arms units. Those experiments, entitled combined arms in a chemical and biological environment, reported significant degradation of collective tasks when Soldiers were forced to wear protective equipment while executing collective tasks. Task degradation became most acute as time progressed, with a sharp increase in degradation occurring as test players approached ten hours of operations in mission-oriented protective posture (MOPP).

Sustainment functions were not a focus of that study, but there is no reason to believe they would be any less impacted. Much of a modern logistics effort is driven by the movement of large shipping containers, which requires special equipment, some of which is military-adapted commercial equipment procured with little concern for use by Soldiers in protective equipment. The easiest way to mitigate the degradation of MOPP is to train in that condition. Planning and conducting logistics operations in MOPP is not often seen.

Sustainment operations in a technology-enabled environment have to do three things:

  • They have to disperse. The traditional brigade or division support activities are far too easy to locate and service with increasingly more lethal weapons. It is necessary to array these in base clusters.
  • Base clusters have to relocate at frequent intervals determined by the threat intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
  • It is necessary to integrate signature management through natural cover and concealment, management of electronics emissions, multi spectral camouflage, obscuration, and decoys.

An effective protection effort must be planned and integrated to be agile. Doing this in a technically solvent manner requires a planning tool especially for operations complicated by the chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) environment.

Future operational environments will require operations to cover a much larger area than it currently does. Long lines of communication and increased ability to locate, target, and disrupt sustainment will drive the need to operate differently. Once sustainment occurs, the sustainment formation will unlikely return to where it originated and will more likely recover to a newly established agile sustainment base. This complicated environment becomes more demanding when the condition of CBRN is added. Ensuring that returning manned and unmanned vehicles are not contaminated will require a screening capability before they close on the agile sustainment base. The likelihood that CBRN forces will be available to screen those assets is slim, further driving the need for an agile autonomous CBRN detection capability. Exactly how to accomplish this requires some thought and experimentation in the context of future sustainment operations.

Contaminated vehicles will require mitigation, and, as with screening, dedicated CBRN forces will unlikely be available to perform that function. As with detection, mitigation requires automated capabilities that minimize or eliminate the need for expert CBRN assistance.

Lastly, because mitigation will unlikely be complete and the effects of contamination may be cumulative, there will be a need to classify and tag logistics equipment as RED (Unserviceable without heroic effort); AMBER (Operable with limitations); and GREEN (Fully mission capable). This tagging effort should also feed a mission planning capability.

Ignoring the potential CBRN effects problem will not improve the bad news. Realistic training in a simulated CBRN environment contributes to mitigation. If unique sustainment challenges exist, identifying them, leveraging advanced technologies to mitigate them, and defining solutions now will ensure future sustainment operations are agile and effective in future combat.


James M. “Mike” Cress currently serves as a technical liaison officer from the Chemical Biological Command and is stationed at the Maneuver Support Center at Fort Leonard Wood, Mississippi. He has a combination of military and Army Civilian experience of 46 years. Mike is a combat veteran and a graduate of the Air War College, Command and General Staff College, Chemical Officer Advanced Course, Infantry Officer Advanced Course, and Infantry Officer Candidate School. He is currently involved in the integration of CBRN and obscurant technologies as enablers for future operational concepts.


This article was published in the Fall 22 issue of Army Sustainment.


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