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Counterterrorism 

Counterterrorism Office Seeks Array of Technologies 

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By Yasmin Tadjdeh 



The Defense Department office charged with developing technologies to tackle some of the most challenging counterterrorism problems released its annual wish list. Devices to defeat improvised bombs and chemical and biological weapons are among its most acute needs.

The Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office uses rapid research, advanced studies and technical innovation to combat terrorism and irregular adversaries. The office incorporates numerous divisions that focus on different topics ranging from forensics to improvised explosive devices, each with their own critical needs.

The chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive arm of the office is looking to acquire new systems in the coming year such as a sampling device that can collect nanogram-levels of explosives on the fly, training and simulation programs, and gear that can suck up dangerous biological agents, said Program Manager Christina Baxter.

The training program should focus on the basic science of explosives detection, Baxter said. It should be a true simulation program that incorporates virtual environments, graphics and videos and not just a series of PowerPoint presentations, she said during CTTSO’s annual advanced planning briefing for industry.

“What I don’t want is to … [give] the operator a Ph.D. in explosive detection. What I do want is to teach them how to best operate their system,” Baxter said. “[That way] they get … that repeated, repetitive training they need.”

Once completed, CBRNE intends to distribute the system to members of the explosive community, she said.

CBRNE is also seeking a new scalable vacuum evidentiary powder collection device. Collecting powder-based biological samples is difficult because it can be tough to gather small quantities, Baxter said.

Biological sampling was used during the 2001 anthrax attack that killed five people after they were exposed to the bacteria spores. The attack demonstrated the hazards of handling biological agents and the need to recover as much as possible for forensic analysis, said CTTSO materials.

The device would need to collect and preserve a powder-based biological agent from a number of surfaces and scenarios, Baxter said. It should also be able to collect anywhere from 10 milligrams to 1 gram of powder. It needs to be portable, weigh between seven and 10 pounds and scalable to accommodate different quantities of powder. It should also have a sterile and sealable collection chamber, Baxter said.

The device also should be able to collect liquids, Baxter said.

A new explosives-sampling device that can collect nanogram levels of particles — both airborne and on surfaces for commercial, military and homemade explosives — is also on CBRNE’s wish list.

One need “that you see repeatedly throughout the years is explosive sampling,” Baxter said. “Today, it is still our biggest gap in the explosive detection arena. … We don’t get the sample to the detector well. We have great detectors out there, but because we don’t get the sample to them well, we’re not getting great detection.”

CBRNE is seeking a device that will collect samples and work with existing, commercially developed detectors, she said.

At the improvised device defeat and explosive countermeasures division of CTTSO, the group continues to monitor IED threats, said program manager Edwin Bundy.

“The proliferation of IEDs globally continues to increase, and it has become more and more of a problem for the public safety community here in the United States as well as overseas,” Bundy said.

One need is a way to remotely dispose of homemade explosives, Bundy said.

“The primary way these incidents are handled now is we’ll have a bomb technician that actually has to go into a space and manually remove sensitive homemade explosives and those sorts of things. It’s often cluttered … and [there can be] lots of unknown chemicals,” Bundy said. “We are looking for a remotely operated system for not only the onsite collection of those materials, but if they are identified to be homemade explosives, desensitize and dispose of that sensitive homemade explosive on site.”

The group wants a system that can attach to an existing robot. A gripper on the device should be able to collect small quantities of suspected explosives and, if later deemed an explosive, desensitize and dispose of it. The disposal process should work by mixing small quantities of the material with a flammable liquid. The incineration component does not necessarily have to remain attached to the robot during the process, but it must be able to remotely destroy the explosive, Bundy said. It must also be configurable in 30 minutes.

The division is also planning to commission a report on worldwide improvised explosive device trends, he said. The report will analyze technical data from 2005 through the present and will include information on device construction, function, reliability, similarities to devices around the globe and other details, Bundy said.

“We’re fortunate enough in our subgroup to work with bomb technicians from all over the world. What we found out, really with respect to IEDs that are occurring in other places in the world, [is that] we have a lot less information than we probably should with regard to places outside of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Bundy said.

He envisions the report as a reference guide for bomb technicians who have law enforcement level security clearances.

The group is also looking to commission a report on vehicle-borne improvised explosive device countermeasures, Bundy said.

There are numerous tools available for bomb technicians that can assist in removing IEDs in vehicles, but they aren’t compiled in one repository, he said.

“All of that information is scattered in different places,” Bundy said. “What we want to do is … bring that all in together and put it in one place that is easy for bomb technicians, military, public safety to understand what the tools are, what the capabilities are and tool construction.”

The guide should include information about tools and tactics that have been successfully used to disarm a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, he said. Once completed, it should be delivered as a software package that can be accessed using Android, Apple or Windows based laptops and tablets, he said. Smartphone accessibility is not needed.

“We don’t think that … smartphones really lend themselves well to this, but laptops and tablets give you plenty of real estate to be able to look at the directions and the effects that are incorporated into this,” Bundy said.

Officials at CTTSO’s tactical operations support group are seeking a new tactical day and night fiber optic camera system.

“TOS is looking to develop a tactical, man portable, day and night fiber optic camera system capable of viewing a target of interest remotely in real time. The system will be utilized to enhance target sectional awareness, increase force protection, allow stand-off inspection of IEDs and provide for close target recon,” said Marc Egan, of the group.

It “will be utilized to search under and around corners, doors, interior and exterior walls, fences, through pipes and duct work, and in and through confined spaces,” CTTSO materials said. “The system will also allow inspection of barriers, enabling the detection of bombs, dirty trick devices and booby traps.”

The camera must be high definition, have a zoom function and operate in low-light conditions, Egan said. It should also be able to identify a person in a room 24 feet away, he said.

The group is also searching for a non-pyrotechnic diversionary device. Current diversionary devices use explosive materials to create loud noises and flashing lights to distract adversaries. Explosives in the device can sometimes mix with flammable gases or materials in the area, which can cause a secondary explosion. This can be dangerous for operators and result in collateral damage, CTTSO materials stated.

The device should be 5.5 inches or less in length, easily thrown, rugged and have a durable fuse. It should create a blinding light for five seconds and generate “debilitating” sound pressure levels, CTTSO materials said. Additionally, it must be reusable and have a minimum of 50 uses.

The investigative and forensic science group is seeking software that can scan large volumes of digital images and videos to detect faces and heads from different angles, said Jeff Huber, a member of the IFS team.

The system should be able to forensically analyze faces and automatically sort them into groups, he said. The program also would group people based on uncommon facial features such as scarring or tattoos. It should be able to process a terabyte of data at one time.

Companies interested in fulfilling any of CTTSO’s fiscal year 2015 needs can submit bids once its broad agency announcement is formally released. A Feb. 26 statement on the office’s website said it was facing delays releasing the BAA, but still intends to publish the announcements.

CTTSO officials noted that requirements detailed in the advanced planning briefing for industry may be tweaked or removed, and new requirements could be added. Information in the official BAA will supersede any released during the briefing.                                                                

Photo Credit: Thinkstock
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