Magazine article National Defense

Chem-Bio Defense Policies Revisited Post-Iraq

Magazine article National Defense

Chem-Bio Defense Policies Revisited Post-Iraq

Article excerpt

The industrial base responded remarkably well to the surge in demand for chemical and biological defense equipment in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But troops in the theater encountered problems operating equipment that had not been properly tested, said Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Reeves, the joint program executive officer for chemical and biological defense.

Reeves oversees the development, testing and acquisition of chemical and biological detection systems, medical diagnostics and countermeasures.

Detector devices and other chem-bio gear shipped to OIF had been tested by contractors, but had not yet been approved by the government for use in combat, he said. "None of it had independent government evaluations by independent Department of Defense test agencies certifying its safety or effectiveness."

Reeves and other senior officials addressed the 20th World Wide Chemical Conference at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Dale Klein, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, biological and chemical defense programs, issued a memo to the service secretaries, in February 2003, directing that no equipment be purchased by the services without independent government testing, Reeves said.

"Suffice it to say, industry has the message that NBC [nuclear, biological and chemical] equipment purchased and fielded to deployed forces requires independent government test and evaluation before procurement," said Reeves.

Reeves acknowledged that, while contractor logistical support was adequate, the service doctrine requires adjustments.

"We've been struggling with this for the last decade," said Reeves.

The doctrine states that contractors normally are not permitted to operate on the front lines. Although contracts contain "war clauses" outlining the risks to contractors in accepting and performing functions in these situations, there is an understandable concern fnr their safety, said Reeves.

In a separate discussion, Reeves outlined 11 new capabilities fielded to the services in OIE Some, such as the Joint Service Light-weight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST), were pegged as successes. Others, like the M40 mask-carrying case, were deemed misses. For example, some soldiers wanted a larger carrying case for the mask, he added.

"We, in fact, are planning on smaller cases, but rccognize the need to carry additional protective mask filtcrs as well as individual NBC protective items," said Reeves.

"We are working with Program Manager Soldier on the best means to carry, and if necessary will develop better methods for carrying individual protective items."

Although the JSLIST protective suit was a big hit, stone units also required wearing flame-retardant unifurms. The combination of a flame-retardant overgarment and a JSLIST suit is cumbersome, he said.

"We are looking for new technologies and material combinatinns that allow us to combine chem/bio protection with flame retardancy without losing the ntost desirable characteristics of the JSLIST, such as rapid heat dissipation," said Reeves.

Among the needed items are battlefield detectors for toxic industrial chemicals (TICs), to be used at the tactical level, said Reeves.

"TICs may be present in very small quantities that may not be harmful. TICs also present not only a difficult detection challenge, but a complex challenge in understanding the 'threat' presented by TICs at the tactical level," he said. "For example, a TIC detector might detect chlorine from an open bottle of Clorox bleach. While not an immediate threat, breathing Clorox fumes over a long period of time is clearly not desirable."

Conversely, there is no need to evacuate the area everytime someone opens a bottle of bleach, said Reeves.

"Our challenge is to develop TIC detectors with smart algorithms that not only identify the threat, but tell the operator the level of the threat and actions required," Reeves said. …

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