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What the Army Field Manual tells us about surviving nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks

Ruined landscape destroyed

The following document is an appendix taken from the US Army Field Manual.  The topic is tactical and emergency operations in a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attack (see this CIA report for details on various types of attack vectors).  The document, which provides excellent insight into the tactics and procedures utilized by the US military in a NBC or CBRN attack, is broken down into four sections: (1) contamination abidance, (2) NBC protection, (3) decontamination, and (4) Reconnaissance and security.  I have embedded additional summaries, notes, and explanations.

US Army Field Manual – Appendix: CBRN Attacks

Summary: We must be proficient in the three fundamentals of NBC defense: avoiding contamination, protecting against contamination, and decontamination.

Because many potential adversaries have the capability to employ biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, scouts must prepare to fight in an NBC environment. Collecting, processing, and disseminating needed NBC hazard information is also vital. To survive and remain effective on the integrated battlefield, the scout platoon must be proficient in the three fundamentals of NBC defense: contamination avoidance, NBC protection, and decontamination.

Additional-duty NBC personnel should be designated by the platoon SOP for operations in an NBC environment. The crews of the section leaders’ vehicles should be designated and trained as chemical agent detection and radiological survey and monitoring teams. The squad leaders’ crews should be designated as decontamination teams and trained to operate all decontamination equipment organic to the battalion or squadron.


Summary: Avoidance includes active and passive measures to avoid contamination.  It includes identifying the contaminated area, identifying the agent used to contaminate the area, and communicating your findings to others.

Avoidance is the most important fundamental of NBC defense because the best way to survive is to avoid being the object of an NBC attack. Avoiding contaminated areas minimizes the risk of additional casualties and the degradation of combat power caused by operating in MOPP (“mission oriented protective posture” gear and equipment) level 3 or 4 for extended periods of time. In addition, the unit is not required to spend the time and resources needed for decontamination.

Contamination avoidance measures include using passive avoidance measures, locating contaminated areas, identifying NBC agents, warning other members of the platoon as well as other units, and reporting NBC threats to higher headquarters. If the tactical situation does not allow avoidance, the unit must be prepared to operate in a contaminated environment.

Passive avoidance measures can decrease the possibility of NBC attack or reduce the effects of an attack already under way. Effective use of concealment, dispersion, prepared positions, OPSEC, and signal security lessen the chances of being acquired as a target. The scout platoon should continually analyze its vulnerability to NBC attack and take appropriate protective measures.

Attacks and contamination must be detected quickly and reported to adjacent units and headquarters elements. The scout platoon must have an effective method of quickly passing the alarm in the event of an NBC attack. The alarm can be passed by radio, audible signals, or hand-and-arm signals. The SOP should specify automatic procedures for employing detection teams and submitting the required NBC reports after an NBC attack or when contamination is encountered.

All movement routes and future positions should be reconnoitered for nuclear and chemical contamination whenever possible. Reconnaissance and quartering parties should be prepared to encounter, detect, identify, report, and mark contamination. By finding the location and type of hazard (nuclear radiation or chemical agent), the scout platoon can determine the best plan for bypassing, crossing, or operating in the hazard. The platoon must be prepared to locate and evaluate the hazard based on available information from fallout predictions (simplified and detailed), chemical downwind hazard predictions, monitoring data, and contamination overlays. Based on the situation, the platoon leader and parent unit commander must be able to implement protective measures specified in the SOP to minimize personnel losses and limit the spread of contamination.


Summary: Take cover and dig in. Take cover on the opposite sides of hills and mountains, in gullies or ravines, or behind/inside natural covers (trees, caves).

The best defense against a nuclear attack is to dig in. Unit defensive positions, which vary from individual foxholes to improved positions, should be prepared whenever the tactical situation permits.

Scouts should keep their individual weapons, equipment, clothing, and other issue items in their vehicles. Equipment must be secured because the blast wave will convert unsecured items into lethal missiles. Supplies, explosives, and flammable materials should be dispersed and protected.

Reverse slopes of hills and mountains give some nuclear protection. The initial radiation and the heat and light from the fireball of a nuclear blast tend to be absorbed by hills and mountains. Use of gullies, ravines, ditches, natural depressions, fallen trees, and caves can reduce nuclear casualties.


Summary: Biological attacks are very difficult to identify.  Keep clean and sanitary.  Wear protective covering over exposed skin.  Be wary of eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

The key protective measure against a biological attack is maintaining a high order of health, personal hygiene, and sanitation discipline. Biological attacks are hard to detect. If an attack occurs, chances of survival are better if crew members are healthy and physically fit and maintain good personal hygiene. Keeping the body clean helps to prevent ingestion of biological agents. Keep small cuts or scratches covered and germ-free by using soap, water, and first-aid measures. Since insects carry biological agents, prevent insect bites by keeping clothes buttoned and covering the skin.

Do not eat food or drink water that may be contaminated. After an attack, you must assume that all surfaces have been exposed to germs. Eat or drink only food that has remained sealed; consume it only after you have washed and cleaned the outside of the container. All water must be boiled at least 15 minutes.


Summary: To protect against a chemical attack, wear proper protective covering and utilize the military’s M8A1 chemical agent detector to detect the chemical attack.

Protective procedures

Make sure all personnel have their protective masks available, and make sure each mask fits and functions properly. All personnel should wear the proper protective clothing in accordance with the MOPP level designated by the commander. Protect all equipment and supplies from liquid chemical contamination by keeping them organized and covered.

Emplacing the M8A1 automatic chemical agent alarm

The M8A1 (a mobile chemical agent detector and alarm unit used by US military) is the primary means of detecting an upwind chemical attack. The system provides two essential elements of survival: detection of a toxic agent cloud and early warning to troops in the monitored position. The platoon leader decides where to place the chemical alarm. The detector units should be placed no more than 150 meters from the platoon’s perimeter or position. Space the available detector units approximately 300 meters apart, and make sure each detector unit is connected to the alarm unit by telephone cable (WD-1). Position the alarm units near radiotelephone assets; this makes it easy to alert the unit of an attack. Blowing sand or dust, rain, sleet, snow, temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and tropical conditions can affect operation of the alarm.


If an NBC hazard cannot be avoided, the scout platoon must be prepared to protect personnel and equipment from the effects of exposure. The type and degree of protection required will be based on the unit’s mission and the hazard. Note that the line between contamination avoidance and protection is not distinct; many actions contribute equally to both.


Soldiers on the integrated battlefield will face a combination of nuclear, biological, chemical, and conventional attacks. The key to effective protection in an NBC environment is the scout platoon’s proficiency in automatically and correctly implementing an effective NBC defense SOP (Standard Operation Procedure). Individual and unit protection against chemical attack or contamination hinges on effective use of the MOPP and on individual proficiency in basic NBC skills. All platoon members must be familiar with the standard MOPP levels shown in Table B-1.

MOPP (Mission-oriented Protective Postures) levels

When an NBC attack is recognized, every soldier must receive the warning and assume the appropriate MOPP level (see Table B-1). Those in immediate danger need warnings they can see or hear. The alarm or signal must be simple and unmistakable for quick and correct reaction. Units not immediately affected need the information to prepare for the hazard or to change plans.

If an NBC hazard has been located, the contaminated area should be marked. The NBC warning and reporting system (NBCWRS) and contamination markers contribute to the warning procedures for follow-on forces. In the immediate area of contamination, several methods (or a combination of methods) will allow quick reaction by all platoon members. These methods include vocal alarms (shout of “GAS”), the M8A1 alarm, non-vocal alarms (horn blast or banging of metal-to-metal objects), and visual alarms (most commonly, hand-and-arm signals). The tactical situation may not allow for audible alarms; therefore, the platoon SOP should clearly detail the visual signals for contamination.


Dismounted defensive actions

Summary: In the event of an imminent nuclear blast, avoid the natural instinct to flee.  Instead, drop to the ground or seek cover behind a protective barrier.  Lay with head toward the blast, cover the head, and close your eyes.

Never run for cover! Immediately drop flat on the ground (face down) or to the bottom of a foxhole, with head toward the blast. Cover exposed skin as much as possible. Close your eyes. Remain down until the blast wave has passed and debris has stopped falling. Stay calm, check for injury, check weapons and equipment for damage, and prepare to continue the mission.

Mounted defensive actions

Summary: If in a motor vehicle, position vehicle facing the blast area, secure loose objects, turn off electrical devices (e.g radio), and ensure all openings are closed.

As time permits, mounted scouts take the following actions:

  • Position the vehicle with the front slope facing the blast and the main weapon system pointed away from the blast.
  • Lock the brakes.
  • Secure loose equipment inside the vehicle to prevent injuries and equipment damage.
  • Secure all exterior components that could be damaged by the blast (such as water cans, duffel bags, and antennas) inside the vehicle.
  • Turn off all radios as well as turret and master power.
  • Close and lock all hatches, including ballistic shields.
  • Wear the proper helmet and eye protection.
  • Stow TOW weaponry and equipment, if applicable.

NOTE: HMMWV-mounted scouts should exit and move away from the vehicle, then take dismounted defensive actions.


Summary: After the attack, organize survivors, consolidate equipment, and improve protection against fallout.

Once the attack ends, forward an NBC-1 nuclear report, organize the survivors, secure and organize equipment, repair and reinforce the BP, assist casualties, improve protection against possible fallout, and begin continuous monitoring. If the radiation dose rate reaches a hazardous level after fallout is complete, be prepared to move, on order, to a less hazardous area.

Fallout warning

The first person to detect the arrival of fallout is usually the radiological monitor operating a radiacmeter. As soon as he notes a dose rate of 1 centigray per hour (cGy/hr) or higher, he warns unit personnel. All personnel hearing the warning relay it to others. If the mission allows, soldiers should move into a shelter with overhead cover and stay there until given an “ALL CLEAR” signal or until otherwise directed to move. If the mission does not allow the unit to take cover, decontamination becomes more important and perhaps more difficult.

Supervision of radiological monitoring

Radiological monitoring is performed routinely to determine the presence and intensity of a radiation hazard. It is conducted using the IM-174 or AN/VDR-2 radiacmeter. Scout leaders must ensure that their scouts are properly trained on this equipment. There are two types of monitoring, periodic and continuous.

Periodic monitoring assures the platoon that the area is not contaminated or, if applicable, provides a warning when contamination is detected after the platoon arrives. Readings are taken once every hour. Periodic monitoring is initiated under these conditions:

  • After first use of nuclear weapons in theater.
  • When the platoon is out of contact with higher headquarters.
  • When ordered by higher headquarters.
  • When the platoon stops continuous monitoring.

Continuous monitoring is the surveillance for radiation in the platoon’s area or position. Continuous monitoring will be initiated when any of the following situations occur:

  • When a nuclear detonation is observed or reported in the area of operations.
  • When an NBC-3 report is received and the platoon is in the predicted area of contamination.
  • When ordered by higher headquarters.
  • When a dose rate of 1 cGy/hr is recorded in periodic monitoring.

Supervision of tactical dosimetry operations

A scout platoon is normally issued two dosimeters (device that measures exposure to ionizing radiation). Select two soldiers, usually one from the vehicle of each section leader, to wear them. Check all dosimeters to be used for the operation; any that do not read zero should be turned in for recharging. If a charger is not available, note the original reading. Make sure dosimeter readings are reported accurately. Collect readings at least once daily. Average these readings, round to the nearest 10, and report this average and the radiation exposure status (RES) to higher headquarters.

When operating in or crossing radiologically contaminated areas, use the individual actions for nuclear defense. Vehicles should be closed tightly; cargoes should be covered by tarps or tenting. Mission permitting, speed should be kept down to prevent dust, and vehicles should maintain adequate following distances to stay out of the dust raised by preceding vehicles.

After the unit exits a contaminated area, personnel, equipment, and cargo should be checked for contamination and decontaminated, if necessary. Dose rates should be monitored closely to ensure compliance with operational exposure guidance (OEG). The RES should be updated, if appropriate.


Summary: To defend against a chemical attack. don protective clothing and move indoors.

Give the alarm. Have all unmasked soldiers put on their protective masks and other MOPP gear. All personnel should move inside their vehicles and close all hatches (if applicable); this will aid in the protection from gross liquid contamination. The platoon leader directs use of M256 detector kits to determine the type of agent and submits an NBC-1 report. The platoon then continues the mission.


Forward an NBC-1 chemical report, treat casualties, perform emergency decontamination as required, and mark the contaminated area.


Potential adversaries may have access to a wide variety of biological agents and chemical agents on the modern battlefield. These agents can be dispensed alone or with other carriers or agents. Casualties resulting from exposure to biological or chemical agents require medical treatment as quickly as possible.

The first step in the treatment process is usually appropriate self-aid and buddy-aid measures. These vary depending on the agent. Soldiers should first mask to prevent them from either inhaling or ingesting additional agents; then they should remove agents from exposed skin, either by washing with soap and water or by using the M291 kit. Soldiers use buddy-aid procedures to observe each other for early symptoms of toxic exposure and to request medical assistance.

The platoon leader should select separate casualty collection points for both contaminated and non-contaminated casualties to prevent cross-contamination. All contaminated casualties should be decontaminated as thoroughly as the situation allows before being evacuated. The platoon must include in its casualty evacuation request the number of contaminated patients; this will allow the evacuation team to send the proper number of vehicles for pickup.

Chemical agents fall into four major categories: nerve, blister, blood, and choking. Their primary routes of attack on the body are through the respiratory system and the skin. These agents are especially dangerous because they can kill or incapacitate quickly. The first, and most important, step in dealing with them effectively is to recognize symptoms so proper treatment can be administered. Table B-2 lists protection and detection measures, symptoms, and treatment and decontamination procedures for the four categories of chemical agents.

Chemical agent protection procedures


Contamination must be marked so unsuspecting personnel will not be exposed to it. When platoon detection, monitoring, or reconnaissance teams detect or suspect NBC hazards, they mark all likely entry points into the area and report the contamination to higher headquarters.

The only exception to this policy occurs when marking the area would help the enemy. If this exception is made by the commander, the hazard must still be reported to protect friendly units.

Marking procedures

Summary: Markers designating contaminated areas should be marked facing away from the contamination so anyone approaching the area can clearly see the mark.

Markers should always face away from the contamination. For example, if markers are placed on the edge of a contaminated area to mark a radiological hot spot, they face away from the point of the highest contamination reading. Markers are placed at roads, trails, and other likely points of entry. When time and mission permit, additional markers should be emplaced. The distance between signs varies. In open terrain, they can be placed farther apart than in hilly or wooded areas. Soldiers should be able to stand in front of a marker and see the markers to the left and right of it.

Units discovering a marked contaminated area do not have to conduct elaborate, time-consuming surveys. The new unit checks the extent of contamination and alters its plans, if necessary. If the size of the hazard has either expanded or decreased, they relocate the signs. If the hazard is gone, they remove the signs. Changes are reported to higher headquarters.

Types of markers

US forces use standard NATO markers to make it easier for allies to recognize the hazards (see Figure B-1). These markers are in the standard NBC marking set. Colors and inscriptions on a marker indicate the type of hazard. Other contamination information is written on the front of the sign.

NBC markers contamination marking set

Figure B-1. NBC marking devices.


Soldiers should unmask as soon as possible except when a biological or chemical attack is expected. Use the procedures outlined in the following paragraphs to determine if unmasking is safe.

If an M256/M256A1 detector kit is available, use it to supplement unmasking procedures. The kit does not detect all agents; therefore, proper unmasking procedures, which take approximately 15 minutes, must still be used. If all tests with the kit (including a check for liquid contamination using M8 detector paper) have been performed and the results are negative, use the following procedures:

  • The senior person should select one or two soldiers to start the unmasking procedures. If possible, they move to a shady place; bright, direct sunlight can cause pupils in the eyes to constrict, giving a false symptom.
  • The selected soldiers unmask for 5 minutes, then clear and reseal their masks.
  • Observe the soldiers for 10 minutes. If no symptoms appear, request permission from higher headquarters to signal “ALL CLEAR.”
  • Watch all soldiers for possible delayed symptoms. Always have first-aid treatment immediately available in case it is needed.

If an M256/M256A1 kit is not available, the unmasking procedures take approximately 35 minutes. When a reasonable amount of time has passed after the attack, find a shady area; use M8 paper to check the area for possible liquid contamination. Conduct unmasking using these procedures:

  • The senior person selects one or two soldiers. They take a deep breath and break their mask seals, keeping their eyes wide open.
  • After 15 seconds, the soldiers clear and reseal their masks. Observe them for 10 minutes.
  • If no symptoms appear, the same soldiers break the seals, take two or three breaths, and clear and reseal their masks. Observe them for 10 minutes.
  • If no symptoms appear, the same soldiers unmask for 5 minutes, then remask.
  • If no symptoms appear in 10 minutes, request permission from higher headquarters to signal “ALL CLEAR.” Continue to observe all soldiers in case delayed symptoms develop.


The all-clear signal is given by word of mouth through the chain of command. It is initiated by higher headquarters after testing for contamination proves negative. If required, standard sound signals may be used, such as a continuous, sustained blast on a siren, vehicle horn, or similar device. When “ALL CLEAR” is announced on the radio, it must be authenticated before compliance. The commander designates the specific all-clear signal and includes it in his SOP.


The NBCWRS is a rapid means of sending reports of an NBC attack. The reports inform other affected units of clean areas and possible contamination. They are also used to report contaminated areas up and down the chain of command and to adjacent units. Each report has a specific purpose and uses standard codes to shorten and simplify the reporting process. Refer to FKSM 17-98-3 for the formats and letter codes of standard NBC reports. The scout platoon’s priority should be to pass detailed information, in the form of SPOTREPs, to the battalion/squadron NBC NCO. The platoon NBC NCO should then send the proper NBC report to higher headquarters.


Since continued operation in the presence of nuclear or chemical contamination will cause casualties and severe combat degradation, decontamination is essential. To get the maximum benefit of the time and resources available, the scout platoon should conduct decontamination using the following guidelines:

  • Conduct it as soon as possible.
  • Conduct it only to the extent necessary to ensure safety and operational readiness.
  • Conduct it as far forward as possible.
  • Conduct it by priority.

These principles are consistent with doctrine that places the burden of decontamination at battalion or troop level. For this reason, the scout platoon must use all of the available decontamination assets to maximum benefit and develop a thorough SOP covering decontamination methods and priorities. Refer to FM 3-5 for more detailed information on NBC decontamination.


Immediate decontamination is a basic soldier survival skill carried out by soldiers as soon as possible after they discover they are contaminated. Its basic purposes are to minimize casualties, save lives, and limit the further spread of contamination. Any contact between chemical or biological agents and bare skin should be treated as an emergency. Some agents can kill if they remain on the skin for longer than a minute. The best technique for removing or neutralizing these agents is to use the M291 skin decontamination kit. Leaders must ensure that their soldiers are trained to execute this technique automatically, without waiting for orders.

Personal wipedown should begin within 15 minutes of contamination. The wipedown removes or neutralizes contamination on the hood, mask, gloves, and personal weapon. For chemical and biological contamination, soldiers use mitts from the M295 individual equipment decontamination kit (IEDK). For radiological contamination, they wipe off the contamination with a cloth or simply brush or shake it away.

Operator’s spraydown of equipment should begin immediately after completion of personal wipedown. The spraydown removes or neutralizes contamination on the surfaces operators must touch frequently to perform their mission. For chemical and biological contamination, operators can use on-board decontamination apparatuses, such as the M11/M13, or the M295 IEDK to decontaminate surfaces to which DS2 cannot be applied. (NOTE: DS2 must be washed off surfaces no more than 30 minutes after application. If necessary, use 5-gallon water cans or other water sources to assist in removing DS2.) For radiological contamination, they brush or scrape away the contamination with whatever is at hand or flush it with water and wipe it away.


Operational decontamination allows a force to continue fighting and sustain its mission after being contaminated. It limits the hazard of transferring contamination by removing most of the gross contamination on equipment and nearly all the contamination on soldiers. This speeds the weathering process and allows clean areas (people, equipment, and terrain) to stay clean. Following operational decontamination, soldiers who have removed sources of vapor contamination from their clothing and equipment can use hazard-free areas to unmask temporarily to eat, drink, and rest.

Operational decontamination is accomplished using assets of the parent unit. It makes use of two decontamination techniques: vehicle washdown and MOPP gear exchange. These procedures are conducted at the same time and are best performed at squad level. Vehicles and personnel that are not contaminated should not go through either technique.

Vehicle washdown, conducted as far forward as possible, is performed by the task force power-driven decontamination equipment (PDDE) crew with assistance from the squad decontamination crew. It is most effective if started within 1 hour after contamination. There are two steps in vehicle washdown:

  • Step 1. Button up the vehicle and secure equipment.
  • Step 2. Wash down the vehicle and equipment with hot, soapy water for 2 to 3 minutes.

Because speed is important, do not check vehicles for contamination after vehicle washdown. Remove only gross contamination.


Thorough decontamination reduces contamination to negligible risk levels. It restores combat power by removing nearly all contamination from unit and individual equipment. This allows troops to operate equipment safely for extended periods at reduced MOPP levels. A contaminated unit conducts detailed troop decontamination (DTD) under supervision of the chemical unit. Ordinarily, the chemical unit selects a site, sets it up, and performs the detailed equipment decontamination (DED) with assistance from the contaminated unit. A small risk from residual contamination remains, so periodic contamination checks must be made after this operation.

Thorough decontamination is conducted as part of an extensive reconstitution effort in brigade, division, and corps support areas; support sites at lower levels cannot provide the quantities of decontamination resources (such as water, decontaminants, and time) required for such an extensive process. In some cases, a contaminated unit could conduct a thorough decontamination operation with organic decontamination assets, but support from a chemical unit is usually required.

After thorough decontamination, the unit moves into an adjacent assembly area for reconstitution. Support elements from the brigade, division, or corps support areas replenish combat stocks, refit equipment, and replace personnel and equipment. The newly reconstituted unit leaves the assembly area fully operational and fit to return to battle.

Thorough decontamination does the most thorough job of getting rid of contamination and its hazards, but it often is not possible. It requires large quantities of valuable resources that may not be immediately available. The next best solution is to decontaminate only what is necessary to sustain the force and continue to fight.


In an ideal situation, all NBC reconnaissance will be performed by an NBC reconnaissance platoon. Given the very limited number of these platoons available and the likelihood of chemicals being used on the battlefield, the scout platoon not only must be able to perform its own missions in a contaminated environment, but also must have the capability of conducting NBC reconnaissance.


The NBC reconnaissance platoon, particularly in the division and cavalry regiment, often works closely with either battalion or cavalry scout platoons. When the two organizations are working together, their capabilities should be used to complement each other. The command relationship between the platoons, which should be based on METT-TC factors, can be one of the following:

  • The scout platoon OPCON to the NBC reconnaissance platoon.
  • The NBC reconnaissance platoon OPCON to the scout platoon.
  • The two platoons working together under the control of a common commander.

As an example, if the primary focus of the platoons’ reconnaissance mission is to locate contaminated areas, the NBC reconnaissance platoon leader may be selected to lead the operation. On the other hand, the scout platoon leader may be selected to lead and coordinate the mission if enemy presence is significant, if extensive dismounted operations are anticipated, or if the mission is oriented on the enemy force.

In all cases when the two types of platoons are operating together, the NBC platoon’s primary task should be NBC reconnaissance. The scout platoon has capabilities for which it is better equipped or organized; it should perform tasks related to those capabilities, such as the following:

  • Overwatch and security for NBC reconnaissance elements.
  • Dismounted operations in concert with NBC reconnaissance.
  • Reconnaissance of bypasses once a contaminated area is identified.
  • Initial location of contaminated areas, followed by handoff to the NBC reconnaissance platoon for detailed reconnaissance and marking.
  • Liaison or command and control linkup between the NBC reconnaissance platoon and the commander of the scouts.


In the event that NBC reconnaissance assets are not available, the scout platoon may be required to conduct NBC reconnaissance. The platoon must be aware of where on the battlefield the enemy may place chemical agents and understand the impact on maneuver forces if that area is contaminated. The scout platoon must be aware of the large volume of munitions required to place a chemical strike on the ground. Understanding the enemy’s doctrine will allow the scout platoon to quickly report potential contamination, allowing commanders to make timely critical decisions.

Crossing a contaminated area

As with other combat elements, one of the basic requirements for the scout platoon is to be able to move tactically across a contaminated area. Upon identifying a contaminated area, each scout section makes preparations to cross. While one vehicle provides security, the other vehicle, positioned in a covered and concealed location, removes all externally stowed equipment. The crew mounts and tests M8A1 alarms and M9 paper. The crew adopts MOPP level 4. Once preparations are complete, the vehicle moves into an overwatch position; the other vehicle moves to a covered and concealed position and follows the same procedures.

When both vehicles have been prepared, they use standard tactical movement techniques (such as bounding overwatch) to cross the contaminated area. During this movement, the driver’s and gunner’s hatches remain closed, and the crew continuously monitors the M8A1 alarm and the M9 paper. As much as possible, drivers and vehicle commanders attempt to avoid low ground, overhanging branches, and brushy areas. Dismounted operations are still conducted, but they are kept to the absolute minimum necessary to perform the mission while maintaining security. While the section is in the contaminated area, all personnel observe each other for signs of chemical poisoning.

When the section has successfully crossed the contaminated area, it temporarily halts. During this halt, each squad in turn executes operational decontamination of its vehicle and, with higher headquarters’ approval, unmasking procedures. Once this is complete, the scouts continue the mission.

Detecting and marking a contaminated area

US doctrine requires that combat missions be accomplished quickly and effectively, under all conditions and at any time. One of the reasons an enemy would use persistent and non-persistent chemicals is to cause confusion and thus slow down the tempo of friendly operations. The effectiveness of these agents can be reduced if the friendly commander knows the exact location of contaminated areas. Within a division or regiment, specialized NBC reconnaissance platoons can accomplish this; however, as noted, very few of these platoons exist. All scout platoons must therefore understand how to systematically locate and mark suspected contaminated areas.

Preparation. When assigned a mission or task to locate and mark a suspected contaminated area, the scout platoon must ensure that it prepares properly for the mission. Preparation for an NBC reconnaissance mission begins with inspection of personnel and equipment. As a minimum, each squad must have on hand the following equipment:

  • M8 paper.
  • M9 paper.
  • M256/M256A1 detector kit.
  • M8A1 alarm.
  • Chemical agent monitor (CAM).
  • Marking kit.
  • M13 decontamination apparatus (DAP).
  • M291 decontamination kit.
  • MOPP gear.
  • Mark 1 nerve agent autoinjector kit (NAAK).
  • VS-17 marking panels.

In addition to ensuring that the proper equipment is on hand, leaders must ensure that alarms and paper are properly mounted and functional and that all external equipment is stowed. The platoon leader includes a rehearsal of NBC reconnaissance techniques in his mission preparation. The platoon leader will also coordinate with the unit chemical officer for any special instructions, ensuring that thorough decontamination support is available at the conclusion of the mission.

Movement to the contaminated area. Once mission preparation is complete, the platoon moves to the suspected contaminated area (designated as a reconnaissance objective) using movement techniques and organization appropriate to the tactical situation. As the platoon approaches the suspected objective area, it stops short and reorganizes, assuming a three-section organization.

The sections are deployed on line, with no more than 400 meters between vehicles and no more than 400 meters between sections. All elements assume MOPP 4. The platoon leader directs the platoon to close hatches and begin movement in the direction of the contaminated area.

Initiation of monitoring. The platoon moves by bounding overwatch within sections. Lead vehicles bound no more than 200 meters. As they move forward, they move slowly to avoid stirring up dust and running over or under foliage. The lead elements move to the limit of their bound, halt, and sample the soil and air for contamination. Air sampling is conducted automatically by the functioning M8A1 alarm. Ground sampling is done without dismounting, using M8 paper mounted on a stick or using the CAM. The section leaders report their results to the platoon leader; they do not proceed further without permission.

The platoon leader strictly controls the movement of the sections. If all sections report negative samples, the platoon leader gives permission for the overwatch vehicles to move up. As long as the results remain negative, the platoon continues to move in this manner through the suspected contaminated area and up to 3 kilometers beyond it. The platoon leader reports the negative results of the reconnaissance to his higher headquarters. Figure B-2 illustrates initial movement for reconnaissance of a suspected area of contamination.

Procedures when contamination is detected. If a squad makes positive contact with contamination, it immediately reports to the platoon leader. As the platoon leader sends his initial report to higher headquarters, the squad leader rechecks to confirm the positive sampling and determine the type of contamination; he sends an updated report.

Near side far side survey technique

Upon confirmation of the sample, the squad with the positive sample is designated by the platoon leader as the base vehicle; its direction of movement becomes the reconnaissance direction of travel. The platoon leader also designates the initial near side line from the base vehicle’s last negative sample location. The platoon leader then sends an NBC-4 report to his commander. This report includes type of agent, location, and time.

Upon report of a positive sample, all elements of the platoon halt in place and await confirmation of the sample. Once this is completed, the platoon leader reorganizes the platoon to conduct reconnaissance to define the boundaries of the contaminated area. This operation requires a single three-vehicle section (organized around the base vehicle’s section) that includes either the platoon leader or PSG.

Other elements of the platoon will not participate in this task; they can be used to reconnoiter a bypass, provide security, or execute other tactical missions under the control of the platoon leader or PSG. Once the platoon leader has issued a FRAGO that reorganizes the platoon, the vehicles that are no longer needed in the NBC reconnaissance make a 180-degree turn, move to a secure rally point, and reorganize for their next task.

The three-vehicle section charged with reconnoitering the contaminated area uses a line formation, with a 400-meter lateral distance between vehicles. The section, supervised by either the platoon leader or PSG, then begins a systematic reconnaissance to locate the limits of the contaminated area.

The goal of the reconnaissance is to define the contaminated area only to the degree necessary to provide the scouts’ commander with the information he needs to maneuver the main body. The minimum information the commander needs is a four-sided box enclosing the contaminated area. The following discussion focuses in detail on the steps the section takes to complete the reconnaissance.

Step-by-step reconnaissance procedures. The process used to ensure that the contaminated area is completely reconnoitered is fairly complicated and requires flawless execution. Therefore, detailed rehearsals are absolutely essential. The process includes these steps:

  • The reconnaissance team assumes a line formation with the base vehicle in the center.
  • The base vehicle moves in bounds and takes a sample every 200 meters. The vehicle commander resets the M8A1 after every bound, if applicable.
  • The base vehicle moves across the contaminated area in the direction of travel until it takes a negative sample (this establishes the baseline). When a negative sample is reported, the following actions take place:
    — The vehicle commander rechecks to verify the negative sample.
    — The base vehicle bounds 200 additional meters and takes another sample.
    — If the new sample is negative, the base vehicle halts and reports to the platoon leader or PSG.
    — If the sample is positive, the base vehicle continues until it takes two consecutive negative samples.
    — The platoon leader or PSG designates the initial far side limit at the second consecutive negative sample (refer to Figure B-3).
  • Left and right wing vehicles bound and sample every 200 meters in the direction of travel until they take a positive sample or reach the initial far side limit.
  • If a wing vehicle takes a positive sample, the vehicle commander rechecks the reading and reports it to the platoon leader or PSG. The following actions take place, as directed by the vehicle commander:
    Step A. The driver turns 90 degrees away from the baseline, moves 200 meters, and takes a sample.
    Step B. If the new sample is negative, the driver turns 90 degrees back to the direction of travel and continues to bound and sample every 200 meters until again taking a positive sample or reaching the initial far side limit. If the vehicle takes another positive sample, the vehicle commander repeats Step A.
    Step C. If the new sample is positive, the driver turns 90 degrees again, now opposite the direction of travel, and then continues to bound and sample every 200 meters until taking a negative sample. If this movement takes the vehicle past the initial near side limit, the platoon leader or PSG adjusts the near side limit back through the new negative sample location. The vehicle then repeats Step A.
  • Once the wing vehicles reach the far side limit, they report to the platoon leader or PSG. The following actions take place:
    Step A. The platoon leader or PSG projects a line from each wing vehicle location back to the near side limit and designates these as the initial left and right limits.
    Step B. The platoon leader or PSG directs wing vehicles to turn 90 degrees back toward the baseline and sample every 200 meters along the initial far side limit until reaching the base vehicle.
    Step C. If all samples are negative, the reconnaissance team has boxed in the contaminated area and the reconnaissance is complete. It skips steps D through J and begins the concluding process.
    Step D. If a wing vehicle takes a positive sample, the vehicle commander backs up to his last negative sample location, turns 90 degrees back in the direction of travel, moves 200 meters, and samples.
    Step E. If the sample is negative, the vehicle commander repeats steps B, C, and D until reaching the base vehicle. In this case, the base vehicle must also bound and sample in the direction of travel for each bound of the wing vehicles. The platoon then skips step F through J and begins the concluding process.
    Step F. If the sample is positive, the vehicle commander directs his driver to turn 90 degrees away from the baseline, bounds, and samples every 200 meters until taking a negative sample.
    Step G. The vehicle commander then directs the driver to turn 90 degrees back in the direction of travel, bounds 200 meters, and samples
    Step H. If the new sample is negative, the vehicle commander repeats the process starting with Step B.
    Step I. If the sample is positive, the vehicle commander repeats the process starting with step F.
    Step J. The platoon leader or PSG adjusts the initial far side limit and the respective initial right or left limit farther out (not in) for every bound of the wing vehicles. This process continues until the contaminated area is boxed in. The adjustment process is illustrated in Figure B-4.
  • Concluding process. Once the contaminated area is located and its limits determined, the reconnaissance team takes the following actions:
    — The platoon leader or PSG sends a follow-up NBC-4 report, including type of agent, locations of the four box corners, and time.
    — The platoon leader or PSG recommends a suitable bypass to the commander.
    — The team marks the area and bypass with appropriate tactical markings or VS-17 panels. Chem lights can be used to mark the area during periods of limited visibility.
    — The team conducts operational decontamination, if required.
    — The team may be directed to conduct a screen mission for security or to provide guides to assist in the bypass of the contaminated area.
    — If no further tasks are required of the team, it can move to a thorough decontamination site, if required.
Adjusting limits of contaminated area


Screen missions are not usually conducted in known contaminated areas; however, an area may become contaminated after the platoon has already occupied it. The enemy may contaminate an area with two general categories of chemicals: persistent or non-persistent.

The use of persistent chemicals may indicate that the enemy force does not plan to move through that area; this should prompt the platoon to reposition out of the contaminated area and to begin decontamination.

The use of non-persistent chemicals should trigger maximum alertness on the part of the scout platoon. Non-persistent chemicals may signal that the enemy is attempting to degrade friendly combat capability prior executing an offensive action. In addition, the enemy may use non-persistent chemicals to degrade the scouts’ performance during a screen mission.

To ensure maximum readiness, OPs must be positioned and occupied in such a way that they can react quickly to a chemical attack. These preparations include the following:

  • Position M8A1 alarms to cover both the OP site and the hide position.
  • Ensure that soldiers occupying the OP have complete MOPP equipment regardless of MOPP status.
  • Ensure that both the OP and supporting vehicles have a complete set of NBC equipment, to include M8 paper, M9 paper, M256 chemical agent detector kits, M8A1 alarms, M13 decontamination apparatus, M258A1 personal decontamination kit, and Mark I NAAKs.

These precautions are necessary for several reasons: the OP may be the first element to experience and react to a chemical attack; there may not be time to obtain needed equipment from the vehicles; and the tactical situation could cause the OP to become separated from its vehicles. In the event of a chemical attack, the following actions must occur at the OP:

  • All personnel go to MOPP 4.
  • All dismounted personnel, except OP teams, remount.
  • Vehicles button up and start.
  • Appropriate reports are sent to higher headquarters as quickly as possible.

The section leader must evaluate the situation and decide if it is appropriate to remount the OP team and move vehicles into observation positions as mounted OPs. He bases this decision on a number of factors. As a minimum, he must consider and evaluate the following:

  • What is the enemy situation? Is the OP currently in contact? Is it receiving indirect fire?
  • Is there effective cover and concealment for the vehicles?
  • What are the visibility conditions?

Once the section leader makes his decision, he reports the recommended COA to the platoon leader and continues to execute the screen mission in accordance with the platoon plan.

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