By Mrs. Rachel C Selby (AMC)June 11, 2019
Pine Bluff Arsenal has been in the business of maintaining the U.S. Army's M8E1 Chemical Biological Protective Shelters or CPBS for a long time. Since 2000, the Arsenal has been the location for maintenance, refurbishment, storage, deployment, and most recently production of new units.
This project is something Rob Shields says the Arsenal has "grown into". "This is not a mission we just started doing. We have supported work with these units for a while," he said. "The skills and supplier relationships we have developed and maintained with the older version of the CBPS have helped us step into the M8E1 support."
The M8E1 is designed to operate in a forward combat area so medical personnel can perform their missions in a toxic-free area. The units are rapidly deployable, mobile, self-contained and able to be decontaminated.
"We first got involved with the M8E1 version of the CBPS in 2013. The program office sent units produced by Smith Detection here to PBA, and shortly after we kicked off COSIS (Care of Supplies in Storage)," said Shields. "This role has turned into support of technical manual development. We have now gone through three iterations of tech manual development. The Arsenal has had a very strong role in helping stand up the support structure for the units."
Shields said the Arsenal got very strong support from Doug Bryce, the Joint Program Executive Officer for the Joint Program Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense. "He supported bringing production of the M8E1 here," he said. "This was a big shot in the arm for us. Support at the higher level made the bigger role of production of these units possible."
The M8E1 CBPS has been a great project for PBA, said Arsenal Director of Chemical and Biological Defense Operations John Burkhead.
"Due to the CB Mobile and Powered Systems Division's dedication, attention to detail, and exemplary performance in the identification and repair of existing units, JPEO CBRN Collective Protection made the decision to move production to the Arsenal," he said. "With the increased workload, CBM has hired multiple employees. This has resulted in our meeting customer requirements and providing a high-quality piece of equipment to the warfighter."
Key personnel have driven the process with the M8E1 and have just made it better over time, said Shields. "We do the full life-cycle process of these units -- from production to deployment to maintenance and refurbishment. We have yet to take any of the units of service one since this version is relatively new in its lifecycle," he said.
Chris Broughton, Supervisory Equipment Specialist for the Directorate of Chemical and Biological Defense Operations, said taking a system more complex than the older version, has been a difficult task at times. "This is not a commercial vehicle, and some of the guys working on the units have never been in the military. Training the guys how to troubleshoot and assemble is a challenge in of itself," he said. "The electronic platform on the units have several bugs. The personnel who work on these units come in every day and work to provide a good product to the warfighter."
Shields said there are more than 100 units here built by Smith Detection. "They are getting some age on them. Chris and his guys do a lot of repairs on them before they can be fielded," he said. "They are considered new units because they have never been fielded, however, the technology has changed since they came here."
Broughton said personnel have been sent out into the field to work on the units. "The guys have a great knowledge base where they can assist wherever they are needed. They have a positive attitude," he said. "This is what has made this program successful."
The new production area for the M8E1 CBPS is on the northern end of the installation in an area used during the Arsenal's chemical disposal mission. The area has been re-purposed and turned into state-of-the-art facilities not only for the CPBS production mission, but the Dismounted Reconnaissance Sets Kits and Outfits mission is also located here.
"We produce and field quite a lot for the number of personnel we have," said Broughton. "We had a tour group from Leadership Pine Bluff come in recently and they were very impressed with how much we do with eight people-whose skills lie mostly in the mechanical and electronic fields. It comes down to the attitude you come into work with every day -- you know the job you have to do and who you are doing it for."
Currently, three new M8E1 units are produced monthly.
"We still do COSIS and field the units. Some of them have been sitting for several years. They still have to be full mission capable before they are fielded," said Broughton. "We have fielded a little over 100 units in the past year alone. This is going on in parallel to the new production. We have to be ready at a moment's notice for our customers."