By Al Vogel (ATEC) and Sheryl Grubb (ATEC)June 24, 2015
U.S. ARMY DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah ---Nations, companies, developers and users of chemical and biological agent detectors met June 1-11 at an Army post in the remote Utah desert to assess how well their systems perform in various scenarios.
For the second year, U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) hosted its annual challenge for instruments that detect, analyze or capture samples of biological or chemical agents. No actual agent was used. Simulants -- benign substances with characteristics similar to actual agent -- were used exclusively.
S/K Challenge II ("Sophos / Kydoimos" is ancient Greek for "Wisdom over the din of battle.") ran for two weeks. Customers had their systems challenged with 131 releases of varying chemical and biological simulants and interferents (dust, fuel vapors, etc. that might inhibit a detector). Customers participated at a fraction of the normal cost due to the collaborative nature of the event. DPG released a "cloud" of simulant and recorded its size, concentration, direction, meteorological data, etc. This referee data about the clouds was captured. Customers will have this data-set to evaluate their systems' performance relative to the cloud produced.
Detecting and identifying a chemical or biological agent can be difficult. The type of agent, and how it is used as a weapon, often determine which of two types of detectors to use. Point detectors are placed within the challenge while standoff detectors provide early warning from outside the challenge area.
The first week of S/K Challenge II was at DPG's Active Standoff Chamber (ASC) and Joint Ambient Breeze Tunnel (JABT). Both structures allow challenges of simulant clouds within a field chamber that allows more control than a fully ambient environment. The ASC chamber is a stainless steel chamber 104 feet long and 13 feet wide, where simulant clouds are produced. The first week, 17 biological and 18 chemical simulant clouds were generated in the ASC. The JABT is 550-feet long and 46-feet wide. It has a moveable ceiling and controlled wind speeds that allow simulant clouds of user-defined size and concentration to be created. The first week, 21 chemical and 30 biological simulant clouds were generated in the JABT.
The ends of the JABT and ASC open so standoff detectors some distance away can "see" through the simulant cloud inside. Point detectors can be placed inside. Outdoors, standoff detectors survey the same cloud. Being able to gather data from both types of detectors, on the same simulant cloud, is a rare capability. An international customer noted that obtaining data from both detectors, on the same simulant cloud, promotes comparative data. During an actual attack or incident, such comparative knowledge may help determine how best to use either detector.
June 8-11, the challenge moved outdoors to a massive and remote range within DPG's 800,000 acres (3,237 square kilometers) for field simulant releases. "To disseminate in the field, we'll use a variety of methods: agricultural sprayers, and explosives that simulate IEDs, artillery attacks, and a variety of other potential threat replication techniques" said Capt. Mike Stewart, DPG's project manager for S/K Challenge II. Stewart noted that S/K Challenge II is economical due to the shared cost across multiple customers. "In the end, the Warfighter gets the best chemical and biological (defense) product possible," Stewart said.
From June 8-11, 13 biological and 22 chemical simulant releases were conducted at the outdoor range. Additionally, there were multiple mixtures of simulants, and nine interferent (dust, diesel fumes, etc. that might confuse or fool detectors) releases. Outdoor releases require ideal weather conditions, and DPG has one of the nation's finest meteorological divisions. Simulants are released during threat relevant environmental conditions to support system assessments. Over 10 days, 131 biological and chemical simulant, and interferent, releases were conducted.
"Overall, everything went very well, especially the last night of field testing," said Destry Grogan, Test Officer for S/K Challenge II. "All the customers were able to get a large data set, and specifically meet their unique needs."
Detectors from the five nations were challenged. There were representatives from an additional three nations that participated in VIP day. Data and experience from 2014's S/K Challenge I helped improve some of this year's systems, noted an International scientist. Dugway provides the capability and space to conduct a variety of simulant releases that can challenge all CB sensors.
"We got the opportunity to test at longer ranges here, which was interesting," another international scientist said. "Dugway has more capability of the type of material they are allowed to release (in) their chambers." A Maryland manufacturer brought a detector currently used in homeland and battlefield defense, hospital infection control and indoor air quality.
"Excellent test execution," he said. "We've been coming here since 2001. It gets better every time." One international company came to DPG for the third time, eager to test its latest biological detector outdoors. "We're happy with all the results, and the information we're able to gather," their representative said. "In our country, it is very hard to get any type of testing on an open range with (such realistic) situations."
Many customers and visitors were impressed by DPG's capabilities. A foreign military representative was effusive about DPG, "I was very impressed because this is a huge chem bio test range," he said. "The people working here are experts, and I think they are the best in the world." He said he'll examine more cooperation between his country and DPG, for testing and training. A representative from the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Chemical / Biological Defense, found her first visit to DPG enlightening. "All of these capabilities are incredibly important for all of our programs in chem/bio defense, and we really appreciate the opportunity to come out and see all the good work. (This visit) is definitely not the last," she said.
A common observation by S/K Challenge II visitors was: "Where else can you find such facilities, labs, experts and room? And everyone is so willing to help. If possible, we'll be back."