Chemical and Biological Defense:

U.S. Forces Are Not Adequately Equipped to Detect All Threats

NSIAD-93-2: Published: Jan 26, 1993. Publicly Released: Mar 5, 1993.

Additional Materials:


David R. Warren
(202) 512-8412


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) program to design, develop, and field chemical and biological agent detection equipment, focusing on: (1) whether U.S. forces had adequate chemical and biological detection capability during Operation Desert Storm; (2) what emphasis the Army has placed on the development of biological threat detection; and (3) whether chemical and biological detection requirements are identified early enough to direct basic chemical detection research and preliminary equipment development.

GAO found that: (1) U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf possessed chemical agent detectors capable of identifying all known Iraqi chemical agents; (2) U.S. forces had limited capability to detect biological agents at the outset of Operation Desert Storm; (3) the Army provided troops with biological detection kits that could manually detect two biological warfare agents, but the kits could not give advance warning of a biological attack; (4) from fiscal years (FY) 1984 through 1989, only 6.8 percent of the money spent to research and develop chemical and biological detection equipment went for biological detection; (5) during FY 1990 and 1991, only 25.5 percent of research and development funds was spent on biological detection; (6) the Army has not developed the new technology that is needed to address specific field requirements; and (7) the Army's exploratory research program places little emphasis on detecting emerging threats, such as microencapsulated and genetically engineered agents.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has established a joint-service program office that will evaluate detection requirements and ensure they are synchronized with research and development priorities.

    Recommendation: To reduce the vulnerability of U.S. military forces to possible biological attack, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that the current chemical and biological detection research and development priorities are compatible with the requirements to meet current and emerging or anticipated threats.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A joint service program office has been established to oversee development priorities and service detection requirements.

    Recommendation: To reduce the vulnerability of U.S. military forces to possible biological attack, the Secretary of Defense should strengthen policies and procedures to ensure that those responsible for determining materiel requirements, for developing chemical and biological detection equipment, and for representing the forces that will actually use the equipment work closely together early in the process to address specific field requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Mar 15, 2018

Mar 14, 2018

Mar 7, 2018

Feb 15, 2018

Feb 7, 2018

Feb 1, 2018

Jan 16, 2018

Jan 10, 2018

Dec 14, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here