The impact of CBRNE agents and the SLAF’s role | Sunday Observer

The impact of CBRNE agents and the SLAF’s role

4 July, 2021

The current scenarios in the world’s security establishment divulge novel types of ever growing dynamic and vigorous threats that suggest a deviation from the traditional way of security management into a strategic vision to safeguard the people and assets in a far-reaching manner.

Under such circumstances, the risks involved with the incidents related to the utilisation of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) agents are needed to be considered as a cause which has got the potential of creating destructive and terrifying consequences in any country; people, animals, equipment, vegetation, political stability and economy.

As per the security perspective, a predetermined release of extremely perilous chemicals or mixtures into the environment could be considered as a chemical threat. Poisonous gases, liquids, aerosols or solids are considered as toxic chemical agents which are able to cause severe toxicological effects on plants, animals and human beings.

Perilous pathogens

Viral, fungal, bacterial and parasitic organisms are included in biological perilous pathogens which have the ability to cause critical diseases or even paving the way for the deaths of human beings, livestock and crops. People may get exposed to these agents through inhalation, cutaneous exposure or ingestion of contaminated food or liquids. The release of undeniably hazardous radioactive materials into the environment is a radiological emergency.

The incidents of this nature have the possibility of happening at any location where the radioactive isotopes are utilised, stored or transported; this leads to the contamination of public living, public transport, workplaces and the other sensitive structures. The occurrence of a nuclear detonation due to a fission or fusion process is deduced as a nuclear event. Albeit, the possibility of an eruption of a nuclear war is rather low the likelihood of either a solitary nuclear explosion or a situation where involuntary or predetermined radiological contamination has relatively risen.

The unexploded landmines, ordnance and improvised explosive devices are the traditional explosive hazards widely seen. Apart from the psychological stigma and severe burns, explosives are able to pose long term difficulties to survivors; infections, kidney damage and severe health effects.

In fulfilling the requirement of being prepared to face the threats and dangers of such calibre, posed by the CBRNE agents, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) established its CBRNE wing at the Katunayake Air Force Base in 2016. The SLAF’s CBRNE wing plays a significant role while being the first responders to any sort of threats, posed by CBRNE agents.

Wing Commander Nilindra Perera has been the wing’s commanding officer since its inception. Wing Commander Perera told the Sunday observer that his wing consists of nearly 200 expert officers and airmen who are highly trained and skilled in a plethora of different military requirements.

Surveillance system

The SLAF maintains a nuclear security surveillance system at the Bandaranaike International Air port (BIA) and the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA). “The responders of the CBRNE wing are sent for training in South Korea, Serbia, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, Singapore, Japan and the USA,” the Wing Commander said.

The SLAF’s CBRNE wing is also the very first military unit to have recruited women (both officers and air women), performing their duties in a CBRNE response team in the South Asian region. All the members in the CBRNE response team are trained for two and a half years during which they are imparted with a sound technical know-how, skills and competencies required for the mission in hand.

Wing Commander Perera said that SLAF is always well armed, geared and ready to respond to any type of a military and industrial chemical attack with their exclusive and expertise knowledge supported by sound infrastructure. The Wing Commander said, “Air mobility is a crucial aspect. The SLAF has the capacity to reach at any corner of the island within one and half hours”.

The mission executed by the SLAF in bringing down a group of Sri Lankan students, caught up in the Chinese province of Wuhan, during the first outbreak of Covid-19 is notable and commendable.

On February 1, 2020, the flight on board with the students landed down at the MRIA. The Wing Commander said that his team was well equipped, armed and prepared for this breakthrough mission which demonstrated the professionalism and the endurance of the CBRNE wing in this crucial and memorable mission. The SLAF maintains two CBRNE units at the BIA and the MRIA.


The most significant activity in the event of either removing or mitigating the risks of CBRNE agents is the decontamination which can protect the human beings and the environment from hazardous circumstances. To have a proper decontamination, an outstanding planning and appropriate training should be given to the parties which come into action at a place where there is a threat to the people’s lives. It is mandatory to physically remove the hazardous agents quickly, as none of the chemical decontamination indicates the destruction or the neutralisation of CBRNE agents swiftly. Commanders are required to agree upon initial actions using Initial Operational Response principles and administer these in an organised and proper manner.

Timely and early decontamination administered on the CBRNE agents can be a more efficient and effective way of saving lives and mitigating the damage and the destruction than that of a rigorous decontamination which is lately administered with the help of distinct or tailored decontamination tools. Wing Commander Perera said that his team performs a significant role in the detection, decontamination and giving response against the threats posed by the CBRNE agents. He said that his team has been involved in the disinfection process particularly since the first outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.

The Wing Commander said that his wing is also involved with the task of disinfecting the export and import air cargo at the BIA and MRIA. Every arriving and departing local and international air craft is disinfected and following which a declaration is also issued to the disinfected party which is mandatory for landing at certain destinations, notably Russia and China.

Training courses

The SLAF’s CBRNE wing offers training sessions to the Army and the Navy. Meanwhile, they conduct training courses at the Army disaster training management school. As declared by Wing Commander Perera, many stakeholders are globally involved in the CBRNE counter response operations. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based in The Hague, Netherlands does a significant role in this encounter. Vienna based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) contributes as a key player together with the Atomic Energy Regulatory Council (AERC). The role played by the Washington based Department of Energy (DOE) is significant.

In dealing with biological incidents, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Local Ministry of Health also collectively take response efforts. Wing Commander Perera acknowledged his debt to Air Marshall Sudarshana Pathirana, the Commander of the SLAF for his guidance and support given to his wing in enhancing their skills and bordering the knowledge in this specific subject with a high demand.

Air Marshall Janaka Amarasinghe, Director Ground Operations and Air vice Marshall Udeni Rajapakse, Base Commander Katunayake Air Force Base are also appreciated for assistance, extended right through out. Dr. Sugandika Perera of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Anil Ranjith, Director General, the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Regulatory Council (SLAERC), Jayantha Edirisinghe, Director, The National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention (NACWC) and his staff members as well as that of Dr. Rohan Perera, of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are also gratefully appreciated for their continuous contribution. Wing Commander Perera mentioned the good office of Dr. Rohan Perera of OPCW, for the mediation in the facilitation of the sponsored courses offered to the CBRNE wing.