Inside the Pentagon reports there is an important debate taking place over the Pentagon’s plan to downsize U.S. Northern Command forces that are ready to respond to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) attack on American soil.

Rather than prepare three brigade-sized CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRFs) with about 4,500 personnel each, the Quadrennial Defense Review recommends increasing the size of the first CCMRF while moving personnel from the other two forces to ten smaller Homeland Response Forces in each of the Federal Emergency Agency districts.

According to current Pentagon officials, the QDR recommendations will:

  • Speed the time of arrival for the first CCMRF
  • Enable 2,000 equipped personnel to reach the site of attack within 24 hours
  • Allow 3,000 personnel to arrive within 48 hours
  • Move second and third CCMRFs to command and control support

In Monday’s Washington Examiner, I wrote: “The Pentagon argues that less is actually more, because it has split the troops into smaller force packages that can get to a disaster area faster. But while smaller may be OK for small disasters, it won’t work for big ones.”

Critics argue that the three full-size CCMRFs are necessary for a potential WMD event. Command and control support offers little help during a WMD attack, and the Defense Department’s former homeland defense chief, Paul McHale, told Inside the Pentagon, “If implemented as written, the QDR decision will place our country at great risk.”

Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) also worries about losing two brigade-sized forces to 10 smaller Homeland Response Forces, which would be less effective during a catastrophic attack.

To ensure the U.S. is prepared to handle a catastrophic WMD attack, the Obama Administration should:

  • Maintain three fully resourced CCMRFs
  • Train and equip tens of thousands more special forces for emergency response to catastrophic attacks, as recommended by recent studies conducted by Rand Corp. and the congressionally chartered Commission on National Guard and Reserve
  • Prepare a sufficient force that is able to reach the site of the attack as soon as possible.

National security should be fully funded, and the QDR recommendations should not be influenced by previously imposed budget limitations.

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