The Armed Forces of the Czech Republic (ACR) chemical units can trace their history back to 1916 in Italy, where fire-fighting units were the pioneers for chemical defence. The Czechoslovak chemical corps was established in 1919 and since 1955 the units have been centred at Liberec in the north of the country, and the NBC Defence Institute, part of the country’s University of Defence at Brno, was established in 1998. Based at nearby Vyškov, the institute’s responsibility is primarily focused on applied research, science and teaching. The priority of the teaching effort provided by the NBC Defence Institute staff is personnel education and training for CBRN units in the ACR. Its mission includes applied research in the defence against contemporary and perspective weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and other military significant toxic compounds, the production of scientific knowledge of analytical or prognostic nature necessary for decision-making and management for the Czech Armed Forces protection against biological warfare agents.

Training for military CBRN units and government administration specialists in the defence against WMD and toxic industrial materials are within the integral university degree studies system, including international students.

The CBRN Forces and Administration Support Departmentis involved in the process of the teaching and training of future commanders of Chemical Corps units in Chemical Warfare Agents (CWA) and Nuclear Weapons Defence (NWD). The department provides teaching of many academic specialized subjects including the use of Chemical Corps in combat scenarios with basic practical education in laboratories especially in the subjects of personal and collective protection.

Another important part of the University of Defence in the Faculty of Military Health Sciences that is responsible for developing medical countermeasures against CBRN threats. Based at Hradec Kralove, the faculty is developing a studying bioscavengers, a generation of new antidotes for prophylaxis and the treatment of nerve agents such as Sarin, Tabun and VX, and organophosphorus pesticide intoxications.

It is also developing a unique three-chamber autoinjector for the ACR with other departments of the University of Defence, which combines HI-6 dimethanesulphonate (DMS), atropine and diazepam in one dose.

The ACR’s Chemical Unit is the 31st Radiological, Chemical and Biological Protection Regiment based in Liberec that includes the 311th and 312nd Radiological, Chemical and Biological Protection Battalions and the 314th Weapons of Mass Destruction Warning Centre.

ACR chemical_unit samples - Czech CBRN

In the last 20 years they have served in major NATO operations, in Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, and more recently, Afghanistan, for their CBRN defence expertise. Due to the increased threat of terrorism a part of the transformation of NATO forces was building forces capable of mobile rapid deployment worldwide. Following the 2002 NATO Summit in Prague it was decided to build NATO Response Force (NRF) a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational forces made up of land, sea, air and Special Forces components that the Alliance can deploy at short notice.

Based on the political-military decision of Government of the Czech Republic and executive structures of NATO, a multinational battalion of CBRN defence was established on 1 December 2003 as one of the responses to changes in the global security environment, especially due to the increased risk of the use of WMD. The Czech Republic became the Lead Nation, and as the leading state was appointed to build up and command this unit. The core of the battalion comprised of soldiers from Liberec’s 31st Radiological, Chemical and Biological Protection Regiment.

Besides the Czech Republic, 12 other countries participating in the structure of the battalion included Belgium, Italy, Canada, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. The battalion held continuous six-month readiness periods to perform tasks anywhere in the world, within five days from the activation order from the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe (SACEUR). Recently, the Czech Republic’s chemical and biological protection unit has been on standby to reinforce the defence of NATO’s eastern countries over the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

The Czech Republic is also a NATO accredited nation for the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear (JCBRN) Defence Centre of Excellence (COE) which develops defence doctrines, standards and knowledge with the goal of improving interoperability and capabilities. It also provides education and training opportunities, assists and advises NATO, Sponsoring Nations and other international organizations and institutions in the area of CBRN defence. In addition to developing and circulating lessons learned, JCBRN also trains and certifies the CBRN Defence Task Force of the NATO Response Force.

Based in Vyškov, the JCBRN Defence COE was established by the Czech Republic in 2006 and received NATO accreditation in 2007.

A flagship course conducted by the JCBRN Defence COE is its annual International Radiological Assistance Program Training for Emergency Response (I-RAPTER) which provides instruction to students from NATO member countries through briefings, equipment demonstrations and exercises employing a variety of radiation detection instrumentation, radiation sources, and personal protective equipment.

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A defence photo-journalist for more than 30 years, and member of the Independent Defence Media Association (IDMA) and the European Security and Defence Press Association (ESDPA). David is the author of 18 defence-related books, and is former IHS Jane’s consultant editor and a regular correspondent for defence publications in the UK, USA, France, Poland, Brazil and Thailand.