The Bayonet

Tuesday, May. 20, 2014

Explosives detection kit moving forward

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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - A small, easy-to-use and lightweight explosive screening kit continues to move forward toward full fielding as a means to provide Soldiers with the capability to screen for suspected homemade explosive materials.

Using proven colorimetric chemistry, the handheld Colorimetric Reconnaissance Explosive Squad Screening uses chemical reagents stored inside a specially designed four-compartment plastic container. The reagents produce color changes when they come in contact with four specific homemade explosive precursor chemicals.

These precursors consist of two fuels and two oxidizers that could indicate the presence of explosives. The kit needs no power source and produces test results in less than two minutes. The CRESS kit transitioned from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center to Joint Project Manager Guardian as a program of record Oct. 1, 2013. The military can now facilitate low-cost commercial production.

"The CRESS kit is a perfect example of how ECBC can use its expertise in chemistry and engineering to rapidly develop a solution for the Soldier," said Way Fountain, ECBC senior research scientist for chemistry. "Leveraging the center's expertise in 3D printing and rapid prototyping allowed us to quickly innovate to a unique design for the handheld kit."

Initial Soldier testing of the CRESS kit occurred in June 2011 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The assessment showed that Soldiers with minimal training can successfully screen for homemade explosive and non-homemade explosive samples with a high degree of accuracy and confidence. After some minor modifications, the kit underwent a second test in February 2012. ECBC's Advanced Design and Manufacturing branch produced 500 kits for the test, in order to focus on the tactile manipulation and to receive Soldier feedback.

"There were some small changes we put into place for the kit following the second Soldier test," said Tim Lyons, grenade team chief from the Obscuration and Non-Lethal Engineering Branch. "We also developed a training kit that now comes with each box of kits. The training kit allows Soldiers to be taught how to use the CRESS using (homemade explosive) simulant materials that produce the correct color codes used to identify the presence of (homemade explosive) precursors."

The second assessment helped ECBC researchers identify manufacturing changes to make it easier to produce the kit, and also identified that additional evaluation was needed before the CRESS can be fully transitioned to the field. Another 500 of the CRESS kits were sent to Afghanistan for testing with RDECOM's Field Assistance in Science and Technology Center.

"We conducted a Soldier ensemble compatibility analysis, or simply, how to put it into a Soldier's pocket," Lyons said. "We had planned tests to see how changes in the environment could affect the operation of the CRESS, such as the effects of contaminants, hot and cold temperatures, high humidity, or rain and snow."

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