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U.S. Navy Upgrades Ships' Bio, Chem Detectors

The U.S. Navy intends four years from now to have installed on close to half of its ships fast-acting systems to detect and analyze potential biological warfare materials, the Virginian-Pilot reported on Thursday (see GSN, Oct. 6, 2011).

The technology is already being placed on ships in San Diego and Norfolk, Va. Roughly 130 ships would as of 2016 possess the system that could classify a specific biological threat in a matter of minutes.

Meanwhile, the service is working to install sensors with near-instantaneous chemical agent detection capabilities on its full surface fleet by 2018.

"We know there are many countries that have the capability to launch these kinds of attacks," said Navy engineer Jeff Smith, who is supporting deployment of the technologies at Naval Station Norfolk. "No question, it's a threat that our sailors have to be able to counter quickly."

In excess of 50 vessels have received the new bioagent systems, which can automatically detect a potential pathogen, sound the alarm, classify the material inside of 15 minutes and prepare a specimen for further laboratory analysis. Such work would take hours using older technology that relies on air filters and human analysis.

"You know almost immediately if there's a problem," said Lt. Arthur Bond, damage control assistant for the destroyer USS Mahan, "so you can start dealing with it immediately."

Chemical sensors would provide a rapid alert following detection of mustard gas or another warfare agent. Installation began in 2011 and 35 ships are due to receive the technology in 2012.

Equipping each vessel with the technology is a three-week process that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars (Corinne Reilly, Virginian-Pilot, April 19).

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is interested in use of "omniphobic" materials that, if applied to uniforms, could provide soldiers with protection against chemical and biological agents, Innovation News Daily reported last week.

"It is envisioned that omniphobic treated protective clothing will help to protect the skin from contact with solid and liquid toxic industrial chemicals, petroleum, oil, and lubricants, chemical warfare agents, and bacteria and viruses, thus effectively providing enhanced chemical/biological (CB) protection," the Army said in a solicitation alert.

Existing omniphobic materials would need to be improved for "potential application in military clothing," according to the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (Innovation News Daily/msnbc.com, April 13).

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