Drones and Battlefield 4.0: Decontamination Capabilities Need to be Adapted


By Yves Kovalevsky

The world is seeing a marked resurgence in disinhibited power relationships that are being played out either openly or surreptitiously in all kinds of spaces, including in the information and cyber spaces. Constant new developments in forms of violence oblige us to foresee engagements on various scales and of every degree of intensity. This means that armed forces must be easily maneuverable and ready for engagement in the different phases of a three-state conflict cycle: competition – challenge – confrontation. 

CBRN defense must adapt, and that must mean rethinking current theory and capabilities to be able to cope with the hardening of operational engagements and taking into account more complex, diverse, and unpredictable CBRN threats. How can decontamination capabilities be redistributed on a restructured battlefield? What choices must be made? KNDS CBRN now offers “ESSENTIAL DECON”, a modular range of highly versatile compact equipment.

A New Type of Battlefield

The aeroterrestrial environment is becoming more urbanized and fragmented, saturated with material and immaterial flows, and steeped in technology. Within the next ten years, social media, artificial intelligence, Big Data, 5G, theInternet of Things, and robotics, but also action in, towards, and from space, will be all become tools used in conflicts. The battlefield will therefore be marked by several underlying phenomena, some of which are bound to grow. These include:

  • contested access to natural resources against a background of climate change;
  • proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their vectors, as illustrated by the worsening of the North Korean and Iranian proliferation crises;
  • easier access to technologies that are leveling the playing field such as drones, loitering munitions, etc. They are more accessible at every level and do not give top-tier armies a technological advantage. The main challenge posed by the massive eruption of automated systems onto the battlefield will be no doubt be aboutpermanence: permanence of the threat, permanence of the possibility of action, and finally, permanence of decision-making ability. This new development constitutes a break from the traditional pace of combat, and will accelerate it;
  • the human factor also represents a vulnerability, particularly with everyone’s increasing connection to socialmedia and by the blurring of the lines between professional and personal media. This leads to a loss of cognitive compartmentalization.

This unpredictability is becoming a core feature of battlefield maneuvers. Faced with complex environments and hybrid threats, CBRN defense must take on board the depth of the battle space as well as its immaterial facets, adapting a decentralized maneuver depth-wise (ubiquity and lightning speed), while alternating dispersion andconcentration in the engagement phases.

Indeed, forces can be expected to be less vulnerable as a mass in deconcentration phases and more vulnerable in grouped phases. This dispersion therefore also constitutes a strong argument for contact CBRN decontamination support made up of lightweight, fast, and protected elements capable of providing an immediate decontamination response and, if necessary, accompanying the build-up of a larger volume of more substantial mass decontamination equipment.


The High States of Decontamination Capability

“The earlier the better” always applies, whether it is exploiting the advantage gained from mastering information, reducing the numbing effect of a sudden CBRN event, or providing a response that reduces the CBRN consequences to be dealt with. Specifically, this means being able to provide a first level of CBRN support as early as possible and facilitating the ramp-up of a large-scale CBRN response including, for example, the setting up of a thorough decontamination station.

Direct in-combat CBRN support with a sufficient level of autonomy makes it possible to deal with the most likelysituations by acting immediately on CBRN substances to reduce their impact on the fighting force. The purpose of this kind of support is to enable the force to preserve or regain its freedom of action, particularly by lifting all or partof the CBRN protection measures (reflex CBRN self-protection) as soon as possible. In fact, protective equipment generates stress and a loss of effectiveness, and therefore represents a significant reduction in operational combat capability.

Contact decontamination means setting up decontamination units whose size will be determined by four principles:

  • Speed: the decontamination must be done as quickly as possible;
  • Necessity: only decontaminate what is necessary;
  • Priority: equipment essential to the mission is decontaminated as a priority;
  • Limited area: decontamination should take place as far forward as possible, to avoid contamination transfers.

To be effective, this thorough contact contamination must be integrated into the maneuver, which means it must be mobile and therefore transported on suitable tactical carriers. Their main characteristics will be:

  • priority given to speed of implementation;
  • a small logistics footprint.

Additionally, for decontamination missions CBRN defense must maintain the ability to concentrate its efforts while taking into account large quantities of personnel, equipment, and vehicles. At a thorough decontamination station, decontamination equipment and units treating contaminated casualties will be located together. These operations taken together constitute maneuvers in their own right. They require the performance of multiple tasks and draw on numerous contributing capabilities in which CBRN specialists take technical responsibility for thoroughdecontamination operations. These will mainly involve:

  • prioritizing the flow of items to be decontaminated;
  • diverse range of situations (disinfection, infrastructure, work at height);
  • integrating external functions into an overall logistics system.

The ESSENTIAL DECON Range: For a Better Response to New Requirements

The need for discretion and the ability to disperse operations has led to the development of innovative architectures for decontamination systems.

In the case of the M01 system, the choice of optimized integration on a high-mobility carrier has set new standards for compactness and simplicity of implementation. It is also worth noting the choice to use the carrier’s engine to drive the hydraulic pumps, thereby structurally reducing volume, mass, and noise. Another example is the water heaters supplied by the vehicle’s fuel circuit, which eliminates replenishment operations by personnel. The system’s optimized integration offers benefits in terms of easy familiarization and ergonomic use, which saves time for the operator.

In the case of the Modular System, the choice of ultra-compact standalone modules with a limited mass allows for new uses. Once again, the design choices are focused on ease and speed of implementation.

Managing Large Flows

In addition to well-designed ergonomics, the system is powerful enough to handle high throughputs. The decontamination system can therefore speed up overall operations while minimizing the burden on the operators. For instance, the M01 system is considerably less noisy, which helps improve operators’ endurance during operations.

Its flexibility of use also extends to the use of different decontamination solutions. Equipped with modules formeasuring out, mixing, and spraying all types of aqueous solutions in liquid or foam form, the ESSENTIAL DECONrange therefore adapts to different threats and operational situations. It is therefore possible to select and use the most appropriate chemical solution to effectively treat a given toxic agent while in the field. This versatility also facilitates the interoperability of the decontamination system between different armed forces. The Modular System’s entirelyautomatic chemical module illustrates this ability to adapt and customize the decontaminant solution in real time in the field.



The system’s dimensions and modularity have a positive impact on the logistics chain. The modules in the ESSENTIAL DECON range consist of metal structures designed to fit into a shipping container. For the ModularSystem, for example, it is possible to project four complete systems, i.e. 12 modules, in a single container.


Price, Cost of Ownership, Reliability

The ESSENTIAL DECON range uses off-the-shelf (OTS) components, particularly from the cleaning and public works industries, and therefore benefits from the availability and lower cost of mass-produced equipment.

This type of industrial organization reduces both production lead times and the total cost of ownership, and naturally facilitates in-service support and maintenance. It also makes it easier to cope with increased demand or a need to regenerate capacity. Another benefit of OTS components is that they are already tried and tested and known to bereliable. This reliability has a direct beneficial impact on the operational availability of the systems.


Furthermore, in the eventuality of a high-intensity conflict, the nuclear threat cannot be ignored, whether the confrontation is with de facto or potential nuclear-weapon states. The nuclear risk must be therefore integrated right from the planning stage of both conventional and special operations, taking on board the enemy’s “nucleargrammar”.

As certain states may conceivably consider a tactical use of nuclear strikes against specific targets (command post,armored units, logistics nerve centers, etc.), the protection of our forces must also be considered. This means havingsuitable CBRN equipment, decontamination facilities, specific equipment (dosimeters, sealed vehicles, etc.) and procedures. It also means enhanced security during operations to guarantee the secrecy of decontamination station locations, as well as dedicated training.

Yves Kovalevsky is former French Army CBRN Experts Corps and serves as operational advisor to the CEO of KNDS CBRN.

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