A new trace explosives field-test kit used by special operators in Afghanistan is sharply reducing the amount of time it takes to determine the presence and type of bomb-making materials.
Virginia Beach, Va.-based Morphix Technologies is now marketing its TraceX Explosives Kit to civilian and local law enforcement agencies that routinely encounter improvised explosive devices.
U.S. Special Operations Command funded the development of the kit for its commandos, who are tasked with finding and rooting out insurgent networks involved in making IEDs.
During a raid of a possible bomb-making facility, commandos have to swab surfaces or suspects’ hands to determine if there are any traces of chemicals used to make explosives present. They also have to test unknown materials found at the scene to figure out whether they are chemical precursors, said Kim Pricenski, vice president of sales and marketing at the company.
This test was a time-consuming task requiring that the special operator drop a swab into a vial for each of the nine major kinds of explosives. Each test takes nine to 12 minutes to determine if it changes color. If the operator is lucky and guesses correctly, he may get a positive identification on the first try. More often than not, he has to run through several of the tests to get an answer, she said.
SOCOM asked, “How come we can’t pull one kit and get all the answers?” Pricenski said.
The command asked Morphix, which specializes in colorimetric chemistry, to come up with something easier and quicker.
The disposable TraceX kit is the length and width of an index card and fits in a cargo pocket. It takes the material and funnels it into nine separate compartments. The process takes about three minutes. If explosives are detected, circles on the outside of the box change color to indicate the presence of the chemicals.
Special Operations Command received its first kits at the beginning of October, she said.
The chemical reactions that indicate the presence of explosive materials did not change, “but the design has a lot of rocket science in it,” she said.
Morphix is working closely with a local bomb disposal team in Virginia Beach to see how the products can best be used in domestic scenarios.
The company is touting the kits’ affordability for local law enforcement agencies, which often have tight budgets. The individual tests cost about $20 each, which could otherwise total $180 for a bomb disposal team to run through the nine different types of explosives. The TraceX kits will cost $40, the equivalent of running two tests, Pricenski noted. Photo Credit: Morphix Technologies