1. Getting started with operational net assessments. Chemical or biological warfare defense alone will never be perfect, nor are there single robust elements within any defensive approach. Consequently, a defense-in-depth strategy—that is, a layered defense that exploits the synergies among individual components in order to have the strongest possible performance of the overall system—should form the basis for the future. Models for developing defensive capabilities can be found in the Fifth Fleet, with selected Marine base commands, with most commercial fleet operators, with the British Royal Navy, and with the U.S. Air Force. The Navy and Marine Corps should get started with an operational net assessment, particularized to each combat or supporting commander’s operating environment.


General Finding: A History of Concerns—and Some Response

Advice to naval leadership on the chemical warfare (CW) and biological warfare (BW) threat can be traced to the Cold War period. As the Navy undertook a major force buildup in the early 1980s, a memorandum from committee member Joshua Lederberg to the CNO, Admiral James Watkins, USN, was instrumental in precipitating the decision to equip some new vessels with collective protection capabilities and improved chemical weapons detectors.1

Following the experiences of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, including the preparations for chemical and biological warfare and controversies about possible exposure to chemical warfare agents during the war, considerable concern existed at senior levels in the Joint Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and U.S. Navy about the ability of U.S. forces to fight and survive in a contaminated environment. As indicated in the following sequence of events, attempts to address these concerns have been made, but sustaining efforts have largely fallen flat.

  • 1992. In the wake of the Persian Gulf War, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell reports that the vulnerability of U.S. forces to biological attack had been one of his greatest concerns.

  • 1993. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin launches the Defense Counterproliferation Initiative, aimed at gaining short- and longer-term improvements in the ability of U.S. forces to project power and prevail against regional adversaries armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

  • 1994. The new Defense Planning Guidance specifies that chemical and biological weapons should be considered a likely condition of war.2


Lederberg, Joshua. 1982. Memorandum for ADM James D. Watkins, USN, re: Report of the Chemical Warfare Task Force of the CNO Executive Panel (U), Chemical Warfare Task Force, CNO Executive Panel, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C. (classified).


Department of Defense. 1994. Defense Planning Guidance, Washington, D.C. (classified).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement