5. XM93 Fox NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle[100]

The Fox is a reconnaissance vehicle, designed primarily to detect, identify, and mark liquid ground contamination. "During Operation Desert Storm, the Fox was used as a reconnaissance vehicle, as a mobile vapor detector, and as a spot detector to confirm detections from other equipment. The Fox with its MM-1 performed a quick survey check for the presence of chemicals chosen as the most likely to be present. If an alert occurred during this quick survey, a more time-consuming spectrum was necessary for confirmation."[101]

In August 1991, a Fox vehicle crew attempted to identify the contents of an isolated storage tank at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School in Kuwait City.[102] In these field tests, the mass spectrometer indicated the presence of a mustard-type chemical warfare agent and phosgene.[103] A British Ministry of Defence laboratory analysis from September 1991 indicated that the substance was nitric acid and not a chemical warfare agent.[104] Subsequent investigations determined that the substance was definitely not a chemical warfare agent and was definitely IRFNA.[105]

As part of the Kuwaiti Girls’ School investigation, the DoD conducted tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, in early 1997 to determine if exposure to RFNA might cause the Fox to generate a false positive reading for a chemical warfare agent.  Initially, the testers were concerned that RFNA would burn out the MM-1 or the air sampling tube.  However, the test results showed that this was not the case.  While corrosive, RFNA did not damage the MM-1.[106]

As soon as sufficient ion activity was obtained, the RFNA sample was removed.  Under the test conditions, RFNA did not damage the MM-1.  There was, however, external damage to the sampler head membrane.[107]

The spectrometer gave an initial response indicating the presence of the nerve agent cyclosarin. However, when testers performed a complete spectrum analysis to confirm this initial reading, the spectrometer was not able to identify the substance as one of the 60 chemical agents in its library and registered a reading of "unknown."[108] The mass spectrometer profile of this unknown agent had the same chemical and ion profile as RFNA.[109]

In summary, Desert Storm soldiers had a number of tools to detect anticipated chemical warfare agents on the battlefield. When tested later with red fuming nitric acid, these tools rarely generated a false-positive reading.


Coalition forces deployed no equipment systems in the Gulf War theater that used IRFNA. The only tactical system in the US inventory that used IRFNA was the Lance missile, which remained in Europe and the United States. Consequently, US forces had no IRFNA storage facilities in the Gulf. The Patriot missile system, which was widely used in the Gulf War, used a solid, prepackaged propellant.

As mentioned previously, proximity to exploding IRFNA-propelled ordnance and the handling of debris from these enemy systems posed the greatest IRFNA threat to Coalition forces. If Coalition forces destroyed or overran Iraqi weapons systems and storage or production facilities, they could have also been exposed to IRFNA.

This section summarizes a few incidents from before and after the Gulf War ground campaign which strongly indicate IRFNA exposure. These incidents are drawn from veterans’ reports received by the Special Assistant, GulfLINK database documents, case narratives, and information papers. The veterans present at these incidents did not know of any chemical alarms or detection tests conducted to determine the actual identity of the substances, or they reported having no chemical alarms or detection equipment available.

The map in Figure 17 is a composite of the maps in Figures 3, 5, and 7, displaying the weapon system attacks, impacts, or encounters gathered from unit reports and veterans’ interviews. Since some of the points on this map represent one-time occurrences, this composite does not represent a continuous IRFNA hazard. It is not an all-encompassing or exhaustive inventory of every possible incident of potential IRFNA exposure.

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Figure 17.  Potential IRFNA locations in the KTO around the time of Operation Desert Storm

A.  Incidents Before the Ground Campaign

1. Fertilizer Plant

A 1991 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) study of production facilities and their potential threat to ground troops warned that attacks on the Al Qaim nitric acid plant might emit nitrogen dioxide and nitrous oxide [fumes associated with IRFNA]. Although an air attack on the nearby fertilizer plant posed no hazard, the DIA concluded that if the nitric or sulfuric acid plants were hit, fumes would be dangerous only within about mile of the plant, and would be readily dissipated in the air, causing no hazard to the general population.[110] Coalition ground troops were located hundreds of miles south and west of this fertilizer plant location.

2. Army Central Command Orange Cloud

On February 2, 1991, the US Army Central Command (ARCENT) reported that a pilot observed an orange cloud after his aircraft attacked an enemy position near the Al Qaim fertilizer plant in north central Iraq. The cloud rose to an altitude of 6,000 feet before it began to dissipate.[111] US target analysis later confirmed that the attack hit a Guideline missile site, resulting in multiple secondary explosions.[112] The Guideline is one of the four weapon systems known to use IRFNA.

The report was forwarded to the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) to determine what could have caused this orange cloud. The DNA chemist indicated that "no known chemical agent is orange in color" and concluded that the cloud was "most likely red fuming nitric acid."[113] The DIA also concluded that IRFNA could have produced the cloud.[114] ARCENT relayed this information to its subordinate units in a February 6, 1991 threat summary. [115]

3. Veteran’s Scud Report

Numerous Scud incident reports have been documented in congressional testimony, operational files, and veterans’ reports to the Special Assistant’s office. As an illustration, one such report is included here: A veteran with the 50th US Army General Hospital reported that a Scud impacted near her compound at Eskan Village, near Riyadh, during the afternoon of January 20, 1991. At least two noncommissioned officers experienced burning skin and upper respiratory problems.[116] One noncommissioned officer stated that she could not catch her breath following the incident and coughed heavily, causing a temporary loss of voice.[117]

B. Incidents After the Ground Campaign

1. IRFNA Tank at Kuwaiti Girls’ School

While preparing to return the Kuwaiti Girls’ School in Kuwait City to Kuwaiti control in August 1991, a contract worker discovered a large metal storage tank suspected of containing chemical warfare agent. (See Figure 1.) The safety officer of the US Army Corps of Engineers inspected the tank for the Kuwaiti Emergency Recovery Office. He stated that the rust colored vapors puffing from the vent holes in the tank smelled like nitric acid. He was not wearing protective equipment and exhibited no symptoms indicating exposure to chemical weapons.[118]

American and British military personnel tested the tank’s contents using a CAM and two Fox vehicles. The CAM strongly indicated something resembling a mustard agent.[119] This reading was identical to the VII Corps reading (8 bars on the mustard scale) at the Scud impact near Hafr Al Batin on February 14, 1991. The American and British military personnel on the scene at the Kuwaiti Girls’ School were not, however, aware of the VII Corps’ directive about its CAM reading. Believing the CAM reading to be credible, they brought in the more sophisticated Fox reconnaissance vehicle for further testing.

As mentioned earlier, investigators determined after subsequent analysis that the tank contained IRFNA. The Office of the Special Assistant’s Kuwaiti Girls’ School case narrative, published in March 1998, details the events and the Fox vehicle testing at the school. It also describes the IRFNA burns sustained by the two British soldiers through their chemical protective suits, as well as the extensive follow-up analysis by the British Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense.[120]

2. Silkworm Missiles at Umm Qasr

Like the Kuwaiti Girls’ School in Kuwait City, Umm Qasr was the site of an Iraqi Silkworm missile storage and maintenance facility. (See Figure 18 and refer back to map at Figure 7.) American EOD personnel arrived there in mid-March 1991 to remove and destroy Silkworm missiles and associated equipment.[121]

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Figure 18.  US EOD operations at Umm Qasr[122]

Destruction operations at this facility occurred in two phases. First, the team removed approximately 60 Silkworm missiles from the bunkers. Then the team attached C-4 (a putty-like military plastic explosive) and detonation cord to several Silkworm warheads remaining in the bunkers, ignited the detonation cord, and destroyed 75 to 80 missiles. Combat engineers assisted with the demolition activities. One of the pieces of equipment that the team destroyed was an Iraqi tanker truck containing an unidentified liquid. EOD personnel moved the tanker truck against the closed door of one of the bunkers prepared for destruction. The blast of the exploding bunker caused a brownish-red fireball from the tanker truck, possibly indicating the presence of IRFNA in the tanker. However, the EOD officer said that they did not have an M8A1 alarm, a CAM, or any specialty equipment to test the contents of the tanker. In a personal interview, he recalled that he knew of no one who reported experiencing symptoms of nerve agent exposure.[123]

3. Air Force EOD Specialist’s IRFNA Burn

In April 1991, an Air Force EOD team attempted to remove the oxidizer and propellant tanks from a captured Iraqi missile. The missile was smaller than a Guideline or a Scud, both of which the team had seen and worked with before.[124] The missile, pictured below, was most likely an AS-9 Kyle air-to-surface, anti-radar missile.[125] An EOD specialist on the team disassembled the missile and later recounted the incident in an interview. He first removed the missile’s fuel tank without incident.

As he began to take out the oxidizer tank (with about a 15-20 gallon capacity) and the wiring harness leading to the tank, the harness disintegrated. He then tried to remove the pressure cap to vent the tank. However, the cap was stuck and would not come off, so he stopped work on the missile. Overnight, the tank cooled and the next day he was able to get the pressure cap off without incident. The EOD specialist then neutralized the tank pressure to prevent ignition of its contents.

As he began to drain the oxidizer tank, it began to fume an orange cloud that went about six feet into the air. (See Figure 19.) He stated that he knew the tank contained RFNA because he had worked with it before. The fluid inside was a brownish color. Although dressed in a specialized apron (designed for work with fuels, oxidizers and other hazardous materials), rubber gloves, separate hood, and self-contained breathing apparatus, he spilled some of the fluid. It got under his hood, burning the back of his neck and hair.

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Figure 19.  Captured missile fuming orange cloud (circled)[126]

He immediately ran from the area, removed his hood and breathing apparatus, and had others spray him with water for approximately 15 minutes. He did not recall any medical personnel being present, and he did not seek medical assistance following the incident. He also stated that no one else on the scene was injured or experienced any symptoms of exposure from the incident.[127]


Toxic substances such as IRFNA, industrial chemicals, and other environmental hazards are likely to be encountered on future battlefields. The Department of Defense needs to ensure that all personnel deployed to theaters where such toxic substances may be used are aware of the potential environmental and occupational hazards. This would include non-combat medical and support personnel who might find themselves exposed to such hazards, or who might find themselves treating patients contaminated with hazardous industrial chemicals or other substances.

A.  Improving Fox Vehicle Detection Capabilities

The Fox vehicle did not have a profile for IRFNA in its standard profile library at the time of the Gulf War (and still does not have one). Consequently, if Fox vehicle operators encountered IRFNA in the field today, they would identify it as an unknown substance. The profiles for IRFNA, and other hazardous substances such as kerosene, UDMH and jet/aviation fuels, should be added to the Fox vehicle standard profile library.

B. Improving Chemical Monitoring and Detection Equipment

Given what we know about equipment and battlefield contamination hazards, industrial chemical monitoring and detection devices might need to be deployed for field use. Multi-gas detector kits with detection vials capable of detecting IRFNA and UDMH hazards are no longer in the US inventory. DoD may want to procure and field multi-gas detector kits or similar devices with selected detector vials for IRFNA and UDMH at the brigade or battalion level. Such detector kits are available off-the-shelf and would free Fox vehicle crews to focus on area surveillance, which is more in keeping with the Fox vehicle’s doctrinal mission. Personnel in the field would then have the equipment to identify and confirm industrial-type chemical hazards.

C. Improving Doctrine, Training, and Awareness

Since nations will continue to wage war with a wide variety of weapon systems containing toxic oxidizers like IRFNA, contamination from and exposure to these toxic substances could occur on future battlefields. Our threat-analysis techniques and knowledge of enemy delivery capabilities need improvement, and standard military practice or doctrine should consider the possible toxic effects of enemy weapons using IRFNA.

Future training and education must address the toxic nature and properties of IRFNA. Training also must teach ways to recognize IRFNA, differentiate IRFNA from a chemical warfare agent, and deal with IRFNA effectively—either by evacuating or avoiding the contaminated area, disposing of or destroying the IRFNA, or destroying its production source.

In addition to education and training, military doctrine and guidance should recognize IRFNA and similar non-chemical warfare agents as hazardous material and battlefield contaminants. Regulations, field publications, operating instructions and procedures, medical emergency and treatment, and other guidance must reflect sound, accurate, and current procedures for preventing or minimizing exposure to IRFNA and other hazardous environmental contaminants.

Explosive ordnance disposal and other specialized personnel (such as Chemical Corps experts and environmental hazard control teams) receive more extensive training with hazardous chemicals than most other military personnel. However, these specialists do not exist in large numbers throughout the services. Overuse or improper use of these professionals could cause shortages or the absence of critical expertise, when and where needed most. During the Gulf War, EOD specialists could recognize IRFNA, but they did not have any detection equipment to confirm its presence. They could recognize IRFNA solely from personal knowledge and experience, because they had worked with, and were trained how to identify, toxic substances other than chemical warfare agents. To improve their tactical and technical proficiency as military professionals, all military personnel should receive training to identify toxic substances that are not chemical warfare agents.

D. Enhancing Environmental Hazard Control Support

All soldiers should know how to identify and respond to IRFNA and other environmental hazards safely. In addition, tactical commanders should be able to count on timely and effective support from environmental hazard control teams. Commanders should not be forced to rely on EOD personnel exclusively to provide both ordnance disposal and environmental hazard control, unless the mission is sufficient in scope to do so.

E. Timely and Effective Dissemination of Information

Besides instilling a greater awareness in the troops and leaders about chemical hazards such as IRFNA, advisories and warning messages must be disseminated in a timely and effective manner to the troops and units requiring that information. Specific reporting procedures and points of contact must also be established and institutionalized so that information disconnects are minimized or eliminated. Agencies (such as each of the services' safety offices and medical commands) should have well-developed channels for issuing alerts and advisories that reach soldiers through the chain of command, as well as unofficial channels like Armed Forces Radio and Television. Many of these existing channels should be used to spread the word about environmental hazards like IRFNA.

This information topic remains open. Should additional information become available, it will be incorporated. If you have records, photographs, recollections, or find errors in the details reported, please call 1-800-497-6261.

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