DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- For the third year manufacturers, users and developers of instruments that defend against chemical and biological agents gave their systems a realistic workout unavailable elsewhere in the world.
Created by Dugway in 2014, S/K Challenge pushes the limits of detectors and software from around the world for two weeks, exposing them to simulated chemical and biological agents in realistic settings. No actual agent was used.
Joseph L. Corriveau, director of the Army's Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center in Maryland, has visited chemical and biological defense labs around the world, and Dugway since 1990. "There's no place else on the planet where you can find this kind of operational testing capability," he said. "Dugway sets the world standard for operational testing of defenses for biological and chemical systems."
Recently, during S/K Challenge III, Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom tested detection systems. Finland, France and Israel sent observers. A variety of U.S. government offices and businesses tested systems or sent observers.
S/K Challenge reveals the strengths and weaknesses of current or developing systems, and indicates which detection technologies should be pursued or abandoned. The Warfighter or investigator wearing a chemical detector as he enters a suspicious facility likely never heard of S/K Challenge, but he may benefit from it. He certainly benefits from chemical and biological defense testing conducted at Dugway.
David Christian Hassell, responsible for chemical and biological defense program oversight throughout the Department of Defense, praised Dugway's facilities, remote location and dedicated personnel. Gathering some of the world's leading scientists in the field was particularly valuable, he said. "It's important to get people from different countries here," he said. "Dugway's a fantastic resource, it's unique."
The first week of S/K Challenge III, clouds of simulated agent were released inside two massive, open-ended facilities. Inside the 550-foot-long Joint Ambient Breeze Tunnel, point detectors sounded the alarm as simulants wafted over them. Standoff detectors, some distance from the 440-foot-long Active Standoff Chamber, identified the simulant cloud it held.
The following week, visitors brought their systems to a grid approximately 7 miles on each side. Here, simulants were disseminated across the high desert plain by compressed air, mechanisms and explosives. Visitors monitored their downwind detectors, or their software's ability to communicate across numerous systems. All releases are at night, mimicking a typical biological release (many biological agents are harmed by the sun's ultraviolet rays). Chemical and biological simulants were released each night, providing equal opportunity to both types of detectors.
S/K is short for the Greek phrase Sophos Kydoimos -- "Wisdom over the din of battle." It's a fitting phrase for chemical and biological detectors that must wisely identify a specific threat within a mass of everyday chemicals and harmless microbes.
An observing officer from the New Zealand Defense Force had never been to Dugway. He was most impressed by the Active Standoff Chamber, and Dugway overall. "It's great. It's amazing. We could never dream of building this kind of facility."
Another New Zealand observer, a civilian specialist in chemical, biological and radiological defense, said she'd like to see New Zealand military personnel train at Dugway, or have Dugway trainers travel to New Zealand. Dugway has an excellent reputation for training military, firefighters, police and other units how to recognize and deal with a suspected chemical or biological lab, stockpile or attack.
Dugway collected data from each release -- type of simulant, amount, wind speed, direction and temperature -- and put them through a validation process called "refereeing." Dugway never sees the data generated by visitors' systems. S/K Challenge costs visitors significantly less than testing because costs are shared: one simulant release serves many. Since Dugway doesn't have to validate visitors' data, or write a test report, S/K Challenge costs far less than testing.
"Cost sharing allows for significant savings," said John Gomes, test officer for West Desert Test Center's Special Programs Division. "We also provide all participants a complete data package, including all the data from the Dugway referee systems. The participants can use the Dugway data package for comparison to the data their technologies collected."
Army Maj. Sean Barbaras, a liaison officer to Pacific Command in Hawaii for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and combat veteran, eyed detection systems at S/K Challenge III with the perspective of how a Warfighter might tactically deploy them.
"My general impression is that we're on the right road. We're not quite there yet, but we're on the path. As a scientist and Soldier, I appreciate that there's a chasm between the two (vocations). It's a work in progress. Using new capabilities requires research in development, as well as extensive real-world testing, which is exactly what we're doing here."