A military aircraft, transporting chemical samples and suspected Chemical Warfare Agent (CWA) and loaded ammunition, has been hit by an enemy rocket while taxiing down a runway. The crew and passengers are unable to exit the aircraft, which has now most likely become contaminated by the toxic cargo. The risk of additional enemy rocket attacks remains unabated. The rescue mission becomes hindered by another unexploded missile explosion near the aircraft.

At the same time, an enemy vehicle is approaching the airbase gate. The driver tosses an explosive package with a radiological agent towards the guard station. The guards react swiftly, shooting the driver before he can throw a second bomb. The driver falls out of the car with the second bomb still in his hand. The vehicle finally hits the gate, a collision that punctures several barrels that contain an unknown chemical substance. The first bomb then explodes, spraying debris towards the guards. The contaminated guards soon begin to show the signs of and symptoms of radiation exposure.

To make matters worse, an unknown chemical agent is dispersed near the main ammunition storage site. Three personnel are affected, one extensively, showing immediate signs of severe nerve agent poisoning including uncontrolled salivation, discharge of mucus, and very laboured breathing. The other two make out better, receiving only minor skin contamination with few symptoms.

These are only a few of the events prepared for the Training Audience (TA) of the TOXIC TRIP 2023 (TOTP23) exercise. Throughout the exercise, the participants had to deal with a variety of contaminated personnel, vehicles, and even aircraft. They trained how to extract, decontaminate, and treat pilots. They had to clear the scene from ammunition and find out the extent of the contaminated area by collecting samples for further analysis and investigation.

TOTP23 is a biannual NATO Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence in Air Operations exercise, designed to improve interoperability amongst CBRN defence units within NATO member and partner nations through multinational exercise scenarios, demonstrations, industrial display, and information exchange. The exercise series is organized by NATO Joint CBRN Defence Capability Development Group (JCBRND-CDG) / Training and Exercise Panel (TEP).

In 2023 the exercise was hosted by Belgium at the Koksijde Air Base, from 18 to 29 September 2023. In total, 535 participants from 18 nations participated. The nations were 15 NATO countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Türkiye, and United States), 2 partner countries (Austria and Republic of Korea), and NATO invitee Sweden. The Joint CBRN Defence Centre of Excellence supported the exercise by providing subject matter expertise throughout the entire duration.

The exercise play was based on nine scenarios, taking place during a simulated, multinational operation. Each required the TA to effectively operate in a CBRN-contaminated environment on a fictional deployed airfield. The complex incidents required the TA to respond utilizing the full range of CBRN Defence capabilities, including Command & Control (C2), CBRN Reconnaissance, Sampling and Identification of Biological, Chemical and Radiological Agents (SIBCRA), Forensic, Personal/Vehicle/Aircraft Decontamination, Contamination Control Area (CCA), Contaminated Payload Control Area (CPCA), Pilot Extraction, Crash Crew, CBRN collective protection, CBRN Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Fire Fighters, Medical Service, Aircraft Decontamination, and Aircrew Extraction. The participating nations cooperated with each other to complete the various CBRN tasks, starting from the first response through the decontamination of involved personnel and assets. The exercise also included night incidents to further challenge the teams.

Considering the likely future security environments and threats posed by symmetric and asymmetric warfare, including terrorism, CBRN threats should be considered when planning military operations. Force Protection, as well as CBRN Defence, are used to minimize the vulnerability of personnel, facilities, and equipment to CBRN threats, preserving freedom of action and operational effectiveness. Additionally, in line with current military mission Lessons Learned, multi-nationality and interoperability are basic characteristics and guiding principles for NATO and troop-contributing partner nations. Combined operations can be a way for nations to continue delivering CBRN capabilities while not incurring additional costs.

The TOTP series was developed as multinational exercises with the scenario reflecting the requirement to utilize multiple national capabilities during CBRN incident response efforts. Professional training and participation in multinational exercises are fundamental to the successful preparation and conduct of military operations and activities. Many national interoperability lessons were identified and will be utilized in future exercises as well as in possible real missions.

TOTP23 was yet another successful exercise in the long legacy of TOTP series. A great deal of information and expertise was shared amongst the different nations, contributing to improved interoperability amongst the CBRN Defence elements within NATO and partner nations.


Author: MAJ František GRMELA (CZE–AF)
Photos: JCBRN Defence COE Archive