Radiological and Nuclear Hazards Still Exist—A.L.E.R.T. Responding

by Col. (ret.) Ron Fizer, Fellow at LMI Consulting, Inc, USA

The threat of nuclear use is as real today as in any year since 1945, as nine known countries possess nuclear weapons and the competition between great powers is creating an increasingly strained security environment. Nuclear weapons are not the only potential source of significant radiological hazards. Currently over 440 nuclear reactors operate in 32 countries and there are plans for the construction of many more. The events in Ukraine serve as a stark reminder that nuclear weapons are still a major threat and radiological hazards are a reality in modern combat operations.

The occupation of the nuclear compromised site at Chernobyl highlighted the risks of military operations in a radioactive environment. The area is now at risk for additional damage to the reactor that could release the contained radioactive material in the reactor complex. Additionally, Russian control of the site increased exposure of troops and personnel to radioactive contamination, increased as troops dug positions and disturbed materials during their occupation. The conflict also emphasizes the real threat of nuclear deployment in military operations. Russia possesses one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world. It is time to implement acknowledge, leverage, exploit, revise, and train (A.L.E.R.T.) protocols to these radiological and nuclear (RN) threats and ensure military operations can prevent or successfully respond to these effects. Widespread adoption of the A.L.E.R.T. system will ensure military operations can prevent or successfully respond to these effects.

Acknowledge The first key step to improve military readiness against RN threats is to acknowledge that there is a threat. While it is generally understood that nuclear weapons fall solidly within the threat category, they are typically considered “low potential for use”. This probability is heightened if radiological hazards are encountered during military operations. The danger further increases when a military force lacks the proper equipment, training, and procedures to understand and mitigate the risk from RN hazards.

Leverage

One way to improve is to leverage existing radiological detection capabilities and modernize them. Many of the extant chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) testing materials are likely to be several decades old. In many cases, commercial radiological detections systems can provide more capable solutions. Modifications can be quicker and provide significantly more sustainable and efficient capabilities to military organizations. Modern detectors also offer the ability to connect to command and control networks and share information across military formations rapidly, promoting better decision making. Radiological and meteorological data from the civilian sector, networked with decision- making tools the military already has, provide a power-couple approach for large operational areas. Protective measures for units informed by plotting radiological hazards with greater precision enhance the operational capacity of all branches of service.

Acknowledge The first key step to improve military readiness against RN threats is to acknowledge that there is a threat. While it is generally understood that nuclear weapons fall solidly within the threat category, they are typically considered “low potential for use”. This probability is heightened if radiological hazards are encountered during military operations. The danger further increases when a military force lacks the proper equipment, training, and procedures to understand and mitigate the risk from RN hazards.

Exploit

Emerging technologies and ideas from other mission areas, including civilian nuclear operations and space capabilities, provide potential technological solutions to increase the RN survivability of both existing and developmental military systems. The continued commercial and military expansion into space provides a domain that presents similar radiological and nuclear survivability challenges to military operations in all domains. The technological and procedural solutions to harden and increase equipment survivability, as well as protect personnel, can be exploited to enhance existing military capabilities and inform the development of new RN survivable systems.

Revise Much of the existing RN-related military doctrine is based on nuclear employment and battle formations from the 1950s–1970s. Military doctrine and operations need to be revised to account for new military force structure, employment doctrine, and significantly more sophisticated equipment in use today. While the foundational knowledge of operations in an RN environment are still useful, the impact of RN environmental factors on current and future military operations is drastically different. Modern military organizations operate much differently than thirty years ago when they faced near peer competitors. Additionally, advanced technology which is more vulnerable to RN effects has proliferated across the battlespace. These changes require modifications to military doctrine that address how modern military personnel, equipment, and operations must operate to counter the RN threat.

Train No amount of equipment or doctrine changes can increase militaries’ ability to operate effectively in an RN environment without training and exercises, which are key to developing and sustaining the critical skills and capabilities to operate successfully in an RN environment. Training and exercises validate the current skills and abilities of operators to use their equipment properly to mitigate the impacts from RN hazards; train and educate leaders to effectively command and sustain operations in RN environments to accomplish their assigned missions; and develop and enhance the skills of those with little or no experience to confidently operate in a RN environment and successfully conduct their mission essential tasks. Training and exercises also identify remaining capability gaps across doctrine, organizations, training and educations, materiel, etc. that impact the successful execution of military plans and operations. Training and exercises to assess RN capabilities are most beneficial when integrated into operational scenarios that focus on assessing military organization’s ability to accomplish their specific missions.

The world remains a complex and challenging security environment that includes RN threats and hazards. Successful future operations require militaries to be A.L.E.R.T. By acknowledging the RN threat, leveraging commercial capabilities, and exploiting technology advancement for space, militaries can improve their capabilities. By modifying their doctrine to address future warfighting concepts in an RN environment and then training for proficiency, militaries can effectively accomplish their missions and mitigate the RN threat.

A U T H O R

Ron Fizer is an U.S. Army Colonel (retired) and Fellow at LMI Consulting, Inc.

He lends his technical and analytical expertise to solve complex problems related to countering weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defense.

A highly regarded technical expert, Fizer is sought by a wide range of clients to rapidly develop integrated capabilities and implement those solutions into their operations to improve readiness and reduce risk.

Before joining LMI, he spent 30 years in active duty, serving in various command, staff, and leadership positions across the Army, Joint Staff, and Secretary of Defense staff in tactical, strategic, and institutional support organizations within the United States, Germany, South Korea, and Iraq.