Virtual Testing Supports Baseline Development
The KPP’s threshold for survivability is rooted in Cold War scenarios that, fortunately, have not come to pass. These scenarios envisioned extensive CBRN employment and effects in large-scale battlefield offensives. For materiel providers, engineering and physically testing capabilities to meet such a high threshold is costly and requires sophisticated facilities. They must choose to make this significant investment or request a waiver.
Waivers often leave us in the dark about how systems may perform in plausible scenarios where chemical, biological, and radiological agents are dispersed locally or at relatively low concentrations. We have seen this with chemical agents in Syria, where U.S. and coalition units have operated in contaminated areas. The Skripal poisonings, in which the nerve agent Novichok was used in an assassination attempt, could be deployed in similarly close contact with U.S. military personnel or installations. Yet no alternatives provide for satisfying a level of CBRN survivability more appropriate for these operational environments.
While the target, Sergei Skripal, survived, the 2018 attempt had devastating effects on the infrastructure of Salisbury, England, where the attack took place—including one bystander dead and another blinded when they encountered the dispersal device, a perfume bottle, months later. The Guardian reported the yearlong clean-up effort at 12 known contaminated sites required up to 800 military CBRN specialists for 13,000 hours. Our military infrastructure, a target for such attacks, must be hardened to mitigate the cost, complexity, and operational impact of recovery. Improved understanding of CBRN survivability would strengthen our resiliency and response to the use of these types of agents. Ensuring our systems can withstand these weapons is critical as their proliferation becomes an ever-greater threat.
We can and should develop and implement testing focused on small-concentration threat scenarios. Using advanced modeling and simulation techniques, manufacturers can conduct robust analyses of their systems against CBRN agents at varying concentrations, helping establish baseline levels of survivability. While some live testing is needed to accurately replicate WMD effects, virtual testing environments offer methods that are repeatable, low risk, and cost-effective relative to approaches that rely predominantly on physical testing. Yet, as long as full-scale survivability is the KPP standard, waivers—not testing—is incentivized. A flexible approach to CBRN survivability, starting with a sliding scale to assess how much of the KPP requirement can be met, would change that.