Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP)
And Chemical Protection
October 30, 1997
Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses
Department of Defense
This Information Paper provides basic information on Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) procedures, as well as information about the protective clothing and equipment used by US forces during the 1990-91 Gulf War.
Flexible use of specialized clothing and equipment protects the wearer against nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) contamination on the battlefield. Such Chemical Protective Equipment (CPE), which includes clothing, can drastically cut the potential of chemical exposure and casualties and reduce the impact of chemical weapons on combat operations. The United States and its allies have been developing and refining protective gear for decades. However, US forces have not faced confirmed offensive NBC attacks since taking chemical casualties in World War I—almost 80 years ago. While tests have indicated US CPE is effective, until the Gulf War, it had not been tested in an NBC combat environment.
Wearing CPE can degrade combat performance because of heat buildup and difficulty seeing, hearing, speaking, eating, drinking, moving, handling equipment or supplies, and sometimes thinking. Therefore, commanders must balance the need for NBC protection with mission requirements. Commanders adjust the level of protection (i.e., what protective equipment to wear) based on the threat of NBC attack and the impact of such wear on military operations. Each increase in MOPP Level involves donning more gear and accepting greater degradation in performance.
According to current doctrine, as MOPP levels increase, Chemical Protective Equipment (CPE) is added to the equipment worn at lower levels. Each increase in the MOPP Level reduces the time troops must take to attain MOPP Level-4 and full protection. When the threat of chemical warfare agent use is high, commanders may establish a standing MOPP level (other than MOPP-0) for troops during military operations. In the event of a chemical attack, this effectively reduces the time required to attain MOPP-4. For example, during the first hours of the ground war, Task Force Ripper (USMC) was at MOPP-2. When a chemical warning sounded, it took less time for Task Force Ripper troops to attain MOPP-4 than if they were at MOPP-0.
MOPP Level 0 -- None of the protective clothing and equipment is worn, but it is readily available. MOPP Level 1 -- The overgarment and helmet cover are worn. MOPP Level 2 -- Overboots are added. MOPP Level 3 -- Chemical protective mask and hood are added. At this point personnel are completely encapsulated. MOPP Level 4 -- Butyl rubber gloves are added.
The protective overgarment and hood can cause body heat buildup, which can lead to heat exhaustion in warmer weather. The protective mask and hood degrade the ability to see, speak, and hear. The rubber gloves restrict air circulation and limit the sense of touch and the ability to perform tasks requiring delicate manipulation. The wearing of full CPE can cause psychological stress (e.g., claustrophobia) in some people. All of these problems can reduce combat effectiveness. Therefore, commanders are given flexibility in adjusting the MOPP levels to meet mission requirements, environmental conditions, and the threat of NBC exposure.
In the Gulf War, the US was very concerned that Iraq might use chemical weapons (CW). During Iraqi SCUD missile attacks against coalition bases, US forces donned chemical protective clothing in response to attack warnings or sirens. Throughout the ground combat phase, many US Army and Marine Corps forces at the front were at some increased MOPP level (Level 1 - 4).