Chemical and biological defense equipment is improving, but still is suffering
from the lack of technical standards across industry and government agencies.
The Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security are working closely
in this arena, but their efforts are hampered by the diversity of technologies
offered in the marketplace, said Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Reeves, Joint Program
Executive Officer for Chemical and Biological Defense. Reeves is the first JPEO-CBD.
The office was established last April.
Companies are focused on selling their technology, rather than combining forces
and pushing the most promising concepts, Reeves told National Defense.
“Military acquisition favors competition. However, once a clear technology
winner is identified, funds are focused on expanding that capability,”
said Reeves. “COTS [commercial-off-the-shelf] companies rarely collaborate
for the good of technology and meeting the requirement.”
That’s not a sound business model, he added.
Military standards for detectors also will differ from their civilian counterparts,
and they should, said Reeves.
“However, they should not be significantly different,” he said.
COTS devices are intended for less severe environments and are designed to
protect workers according to standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Health and
While military systems are designed to protect a population between the ages
of 18 and 45 that is in good health, civilian systems must be able to protect
the young and old alike, he said.
“The requirements to detect, identify and quantify are the same. However,
the actual agent, the concentration levels and the rate of detection will be
different,” said Reeves. “In addition, there are, and should be,
areas of overlap. The systems need to be small, simple to operate, cost effective
and reliable over prolonged periods of time.”
For military systems, technical standards are shaped by the Joint Capabilities
Integration and Development System (JCIDS) process, which ensures ‘jointness’
from the start, he said. At the same time, COTS technologies suffer from the
lack of standardized test protocols and methodologies, said Reeves.
“For example, similar devices are tested in different environments using
different methods, timetables and agent concentrations resulting in different
measurements and suitability criteria,” said Reeves.
Technologies that appear promising often are “too large, require lots
of power, require several personnel, are typically not ruggedized and are logistically
burdensome in a military environment,” he said. “Many COTS are not
focused on reducing the need for support; therefore, the items come with high
consumable rates, training requirements and/or contractor logistics support
COTS systems that are upgraded to meet military requirements sometimes become
prone to false alarms, said Reeves.
For example, some pesticides closely resemble Anthrax. A detector could signal
an alert, even though the agent is benign.
“The challenge is not the lack of desire to set standards, but the underlying
science required to set standards,” he said. “In some cases, it
is science that we don’t have. It’s science we need to go back and
work, in both our commercial and government laboratory systems, to ensure we
really understand what the standard is that’s required for any given piece
Reliability and false-alarm rates are issues of concern, he said. There were
relatively few false alarms with the Automatic Chemical Agent Detector Alarm
(ACADA) deployed with units in Kuwait and Iraq during the war. But when a unit
did issue a false alert, it often was due to detecting exhaust fumes from vehicles,
“We tested those things very thoroughly against 80 common battlefield
interferents. Did we get some false alarms on the ACADA? Yes, but nothing like
what we saw with the old M8 alarm,” said Reeves. “The [M8] was false-alarming
to the point that people just ignored it. It became essentially non-functional.”
According to a Marine Corps report on Gulf War Syndrome, the Automatic Chemical
Agent Alarm (M8) “is highly sensitive to chemical agent vapor. It is also
sensitive to a wide variety of interferents, including smoke, engine exhaust,
burning fuel and even aftershave.
“Before the ground campaign began, M8s generated false alarms at a rate
that caused many Marine units (for which the M8 was not a normal equipment item)
to leave them behind or turned off for the attack into Kuwait. The M8, therefore,
contributed little to the Marines’ chemical warning capability—particularly
the capability to detect nerve agents in the air. (The 11th Marines, however,
reported no symptoms of nerve agent exposure),” said the report.
Quality control is absolutely essential on detectors, because “there
are so many things you can cross-react to,” said Reeves.
Training is critical to help personnel know what they are dealing with, he
noted. “None of these systems are perfect. You really need somebody who
understands what the potential unintended consequences are of using that system.”
Chemical agent detectors, such as ACADA, will give a rapid alert, within nine
seconds or less, said Reeves. “That’s critical, because chemical
agents tend to kill you pretty quick.”
With biological agents, it’s a different story. Because it can be days
or weeks before the effects of a biological attack take hold, it is easier to
“The challenge with bio detection is that you do have to take some time
to make sure that what you really have is a bio agent that is a threat,”
said Reeves. “Making sure [that] what you are detecting is something you
are going to warn people about is the trick.”
In the future, “we’ve got to get to the point where these sensors
are transparent and it’s the information that’s apparent,”
Meanwhile, military and industry developers have done a good job improving
existing technologies, said Reeves. One example is the Joint Biological Agent
Identification and Detection System (JBAIDS). It is the first device of this
type to receive Food and Drug Administration approval.
“As we looked around and got ready for procurement, we discovered there
were more than 20 companies out there developing something similar,” said
Instead of putting JBAIDS through years of research and development and FDA
approvals, the military turned to industry for help. The Army brought manufacturers
to Dugway Proving Ground, in Utah, and told them what the service needed, said
The effort cut the R&D process down to three years. “In the meantime,
we will be able to buy an immediately, available off-the-shelf system to do
the identification and we will do in parallel the FDA approval for the diagnostic
part,” he said. “It has really shortened the process even more.”
Another Army-industry partnership is helping to develop systems that will detect
chemical and biological agents from greater distances. Although the Army has
a good grasp on chemical detection, biological agents are a bit more complex,
“Industry is working with us right now on biological stand-off detectors.
[They are] helping us look at novel approaches—how do we combine technologies,
for example,” he said.
One contractor pointed out that radar could be used to detect man-made clouds.
That is leading to the idea of using radar instead of expensive standoff devices
to detect chemical agent dispersion, Reeves said.
The widespread use of radar by civilian organizations, such as the National
Weather Service, airports and television stations, makes it an ideal system,
“In the longer term, where we are really going to go, is to look at how
we optimize the number of systems we have out there,” said Reeves. “Both
our academic institutions, as well as industry, will help us out with that.”
For example, hyperspectral imagery—looking across the entire spectrum—could
be mounted into tanks and ground systems that are currently using thermal imaging,
“If you have a hyperspectral viewer, you have the ability to leverage
that thermal piece that you need for targeting or vehicle recognition, but you
can use other parts of the spectrum to identify chemical or biological agents
out there, all in one viewer,” said Reeves.
The Army also is looking to industry for help with decontamination systems
“We’ve got some very old [decontamination] systems out there,”
In October 2002, the Army submitted an urgent operational need for a lightweight
decontamination system to support current deployments, said Reeves. The Army
requested a COTS system that weighed less than 500 pounds, was diesel-fueled,
able to dispense standard and non-standard decontaminants, pump water at specific
adjustable water pressures and specific adjustable temperatures, provide a field
showering capability, and be skid-mounted, he said.
For Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Army procured the Karcher Multi Purpose Decontamination
System (MPDS), developed in Germany. It not only met all the service’s
requirements, but at $12,000, the COTS system costs $3,000 less per unit than
the M22 (an “off-the-shelf” automatic chemical agent alarm system
capable of detecting and identifying standard blister and nerve agents).
The Department of Defense is taking steps to address the need for a decontamination
capability. The Chemical Biological Defense Program (CDBP) currently is modernizing
its family of decontamination systems, said Reeves.
“The upgrades will focus on a common platform, reduced logistical footprint,
increased mission payload, an environmentally benign decontaminant and a full
spectrum applicator,” said Reeves. Decontamination solutions today are
too corrosive and damage the equipment.
“With some of the new options we have, like DF 200, we just need to fully
understand how that operates and make sure we have the tactics, techniques and
procedures that go with that,” he said.
DF 200, developed at Sandia National Laboratories, rapidly neutralizes chemical
and biological warfare agents.
It shows promise as an environmentally, and relatively non-corrosive, alternative,
The military also needs to look at wide area decontamination. Of particular
concern is the effect of decontaminants on airplanes, said Reeves.
“[You] want to make sure that what you are going to spray on them isn’t
going to do any damage to control surfaces or cockpit vision,” he said.
There is also a need for portable detectors, said Reeves. Although the Fox
reconnaissance armored vehicle (a mobile laboratory that uses the MM-1 Mobile
Mass Spectrometer to rapidly analyze air and ground samples for chemical agents)
has the capability to detect toxic industrial chemicals, Reeves said it’s
not needed in every situation.
Reeves’ new office brings together multiple service projects and nine
different milestone decision authorities. Reeves is responsible for research,
development, acquisition, fielding and life-cycle support of chemical and biological
equipment and medical countermeasures.
He oversees seven joint programs: contamination avoidance, individual protection,
collective protection, decontamination systems, installation protection, medical
systems and information systems. Reeves, in turn, reports to the Army acquisition
executive and the Defense Department acquisition executive.
The JPEO, he said, must provide an “acquisition environment that fosters
efficiency, flexibility, creativity and innovation.”