Combined Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence Task Force
NATO faces a range of complex challenges arising from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials; and their delivery systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the massive impact that natural biological hazards can have on our societies, and CBRN materials pose an equally significant threat to NATO forces and populations. NATO’s Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force supports the Alliance’s efforts to prevent, protect against and recover from WMD attacks or CBRN events.
A Bulgarian CBRN technician decontaminates his comrade following a hazardous materials sweep near Ohrid, North Macedonia during consequence-management exercise North Macedonia 2021.
- Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) material is used as an umbrella term for chemical, biological and radiological agents in any physical state and form, which can cause hazards to populations, territory and forces. It also refers to chemical weapons precursors and facilities – that is, equipment or compounds that can be used for the development or deployment of WMD, CBRN weapons or CBRN devices.
- NATO’s Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force, a NATO deployable military asset, is a key part of the Alliance’s work on CBRN defence. It consists of the CBRN Defence Battalion and the CBRN Joint Assessment Team.
- The CBRN Defence Battalion is a NATO body specifically trained and equipped to deal with CBRN incidents and/or attacks against NATO populations, territory or forces. The Battalion trains not only for armed conflict, but also for deployment in crises, where it supports civilian authorities, such as natural disasters and industrial accidents.
- The CBRN Joint Assessment Team consists of specialists trained to analyse the full spectrum of CBRN threats in an operational context, and provide advice and support to NATO commanders.
- The Task Force falls under the authority of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
- The Task Force was activated for the first time in a deterrence and defence capacity in March 2022, in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and its dangerous rhetoric around nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
NATO’s Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force (CJ-CBRND-TF), which consists of the CBRN Joint Assessment Team (CBRN-JAT) and the CBRN Defence Battalion, is a NATO body specifically trained and equipped to deal with CBRN incidents and/or attacks against NATO populations, territory or forces.
The Battalion and Joint Assessment Team, created in 2003 and declared operational the following year, are a multinational, multifunctional team, able to deploy quickly to participate in the full spectrum of NATO operations.
Although the Battalion trains primarily for armed conflict, it is also prepared to deploy upon request, in support of an Allied government facing a CBRN-related event, such as a WMD attack, industrial chemical accident or natural disaster.
The Task Force benefits from the capability commitments made by Allies at various summit meetings: a Deployable CBRN Analytical Laboratory, a Multirole Exploitation and Reconnaissance Team, and an Aerial Radiological Survey capability. These capabilities greatly enhance the Alliance’s defence against WMD and CBRN threats.
The Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force’s mission is to provide a rapidly deployable and credible CBRN defence capability in order to maintain NATO’s freedom of action and operational effectiveness in a CBRN threat environment.
The Task Force may be used to provide military assistance to civil authorities when authorised by the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the Alliance’s principal political decision-making body. For example, it played a key planning role during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece, and the 2004 NATO Summit in Istanbul and the 2006 NATO Summit in Riga, where it supported CBRN-related contingency operations. National elements within the Task Force were also deployed in 2020 to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic; teams worked to disinfect hospitals, offices, airports and several military and civilian emergency vehicles used to transport COVID-19 patients.
The Task Force is capable of conducting the following tasks:
- Supporting other NATO-deployed forces to operate in CBRN-affected environments;
- Support to national governments in addressing CBRN crises, upon request and as approved by the NAC;
- CBRN reconnaissance and monitoring operations;
- Sampling and identification of biological, chemical, and radiological agents (SIBCRA);
- Provision of CBRN assessments and advice to NATO commanders;
- CBRN hazard management operations, such as decontamination, including disinfection and sanitisation.
In the long history of the Task Force, more than 20 Allies have contributed on a voluntary basis. Eight of those countries assumed responsibility to lead the Task Force. National commitments vary depending on the rotation, but usually between 8-10 countries are involved per rotation.
In 2010, a non-NATO member country participated for the first time, when Ukraine contributed a decontamination platoon after having accomplished a NATO evaluation and certification process.
The Joint Assessment Team and the Battalion fall under the strategic command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). Operational control is delegated to a subordinate command as required.
Allied Command Transformation (ACT) provides evaluation standards, supports training, determines future CBRN defence requirements and develops capabilities.
The battalion-level structure is composed of personnel from a number of NATO countries, on stand-by for 12-month rotations. It may also include personnel and CBRN defence assets from partner countries. Similar to the NATO Response Force (NRF), dedicated personnel are based in their home countries, coming together for training and deployment.
A voluntary lead country is identified for each rotation. The lead country provides the CBRN-JAT and Battalion headquarters, responsible for command and control arrangements, maintaining standard operational procedures, sustaining readiness levels, and planning and conducting training. Contributing countries supply functional capabilities. This includes providing requisite troops, equipment and logistical support in accordance with mission requirements. The Task Force consists of separate but complementary components, which can be deployed in different stages and different combinations to suit each mission.
The components are:
- Joint Assessment Team – Specialists that provide CBRN-related advice and support;
- Task Force Headquarters – Tailored command and control capabilities with a robust communications package to support assigned and attached structures;
- Reconnaissance – Designed to provide route, area and point detection and identification of agents;
- Decontamination – Maintains the capability to decontaminate personnel and equipment;
- Deployable CBRN Analytical Laboratories– Designed to provide operational and forensic sampling, CBRN explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams, identification of CBRN materials, and scientific advice to support operational commanders.
- CBRN Multirole Exploitation and Reconnaissance Team – Designed to provide CBRN capabilities in direct support of Special Operations Forces;
- Aerial Radiological Survey – Can detect and identify radiological materials and determines the extent of the radiological contamination.
The Task Force has a close relationship with the NATO Response Force (NRF). While it can be deployed independently, it is consistent with and complements the NRF. Its strength is included within the NRF force structure and its components can deploy within 2 to 30 days.
The Task Force also maintains a close relationship with the Framework Nations Concept (FNC) Cluster CBRN Protection, which is a multinational German-led project. It provides a platform to maintain, consolidate and improve current capabilities on a multinational basis. Furthermore, it is designed to train and prepare CBRN defence units, and serves as a platform for identifying forces in order to facilitate the force generation process for the Task Force.
Following the agreement at the 2002 NATO Summit in Prague to enhance the Alliance’s defence capabilities against WMD, the NAC, in June 2003, decided to form a multinational CBRN Defence Battalion and Joint Assessment Team.
The structure of the Battalion was established at a planning conference on 17-18 September 2003. On 28 October, a force generation conference was held at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium. On 18-21 November, a follow-up conference was held in the Czech Republic, the first volunteer lead country.
The Battalion reached its initial operational capability on 1 December 2003. Full operational capability was achieved on 28 June 2004 as declared by SACEUR at the 2004 NATO Summit in Istanbul, and responsibility was transferred to the strategic command of Allied Command Operations. From then on, the Battalion was included in the rotation system of the NRF. The concept of operations and the capability requirements of the Battalion were revised three times, the last time in 2018 to incorporate lessons learned from previous NRF rotations and operational deployments, as well as to reflect changes in the security environment that took place in recent years. Moreover, a revised reinforcement policy for the Task Force was approved in 2019.