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Future Wars: Relevance of chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear safeguards

Huma Siddiqui
The upper deck compartment of the ship is equipped with live agents along with NBC equipment. (Representative image/ Reuters file photo)

Within the last few months, the world has been transformed inexplicably with COVID-19 hotspots emerging throughout the globe. The situation is being generally described as warlike, where the medical soldiers are in the field. Historically, due to the specific nature of warfighting techniques, the militaries world over are trained for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) regimes as an integral part of the Doctrines and Concepts. However, the general community has also been directly or indirectly exposed to NBC likelihoods with situations like Chernobyl disaster (Nuclear radiation), infamous MIC leak at Bhopal in December 1984 (Chemical hazard close to typical Blood Agent), and recent NEPA virus outbreak (Biological).

In India, fundamentally the NBC awareness emerged more through a military-related notion. In 2005 the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) took shape formally with NBC described within the ambit of CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear) disaster management which is now charter of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) battalions. As per the Charter of NDMA, the Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies are addressed through the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) for military supervision.

"The three services have specific CBRN protocols in place. The Defence Research & Development Establishment (DRDE) is the main body responsible for providing equipment and knowledge against hazardous chemical and biological agents. And this includes the toxicological materials," Milind Kulshreshtha, C4I expert says.

CBRN Role Onboard Indian Navy's Warship

In 1953, at INS Shivaji, Lonavala, Indian Navy established the first 'Atomic, Biological, Chemical Defence' (ABCD) Center (later re-christened 'Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Defence including Damage Control and Fire Fighting Center). This was the first centre of knowledge on NBCD where both the armed forces as well as the para-military forces were trained. Recently, simulators manufactured by Goa Shipyard Ltd for NBC training has been installed."

According to the C4I expert, "A warship is always designed such that it can operate in an NBC contaminated areas. These warships are fitted with specialized tools and machinery which help in creating NBC protected zone — called a Citadel," he says.

The upper deck compartment of the ship is equipped with live agents along with NBC equipment. Ship Installed Radiac System (SIRS) helps to detect the onset of radiations/nuclear fallout in a citadel using the Air and Water detectors placed at vantage points.

The Ship Installed Chemical Agent Detection System (SICADS) helps in providing real time monitoring for the presence of chemical agent.

Also, every warship and submarine has a designated NBCD team onboard and each personnel in the Duty watch roster undergoes at least one Damage Control exercise, whether Ship is at sea or in the harbour.

"US Military NATO standards are the guiding references for establishing the NBC standards in India. It emphasizes that Situation Awareness (SA) is an important factor in the survival and success of the force in any environment. The critical SA results guide the medical operations that support effective C4I in a CBRN environment. Here, after evaluating the medical intelligence on CBRN health implications, a medical risk assessment is undertaken for Decision support and finally the warnings of actual and potential CBRN activities are fed to the C4I system. The result helps to minimize the hazard of toxic or incapacitating exposure on the deployed warfighting assets," says the C4I expert.