The CBRNe World editorial office is based in the UK, and as such we tend to do more health checks on the state of CBRN there than in other
nations; and it does become a matter of some depression when the patient’s condition is described as ‘Expectant.’ In terms of CBRN capability, as much as in
triage, there is a period of time when being described as ‘expectant’ has seeds of hope in it, i.e., if a thing hasn’t died yet then perhaps it won’t! Much like the
wounded hero beloved of Hollywood, the heart of UK CBRN briefly flatlined but has been resuscitated following the announcement over the summer of both a
relaunched aircrew protective equipment and detection (APED) solicitation and a Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) call for proposals on generation-after-next
CBR hazard mitigation.APED (for more information see CBRNe World Spring, 2011) is perhaps the easiest to round out. In Autumn,
2011 – around the time of DSEi in the UK – it became apparent that APED wasn’t so much being pushed to the right, but being pushed right off it, i.e.,
being cast into the maelstrom of other projects that were going to be reevaluated. Clearly the project had some “value” oxygen inside it, because
despite being cast down into the depths it managed to pop back up to the surface – admittedly in a slightly changed form. The original contract
was for an integrated, lightweight aircrew helmet and in-flight respirator, a two-tier clothing system, an aircrewworn miosis level detector and an onplatform
hazard containment system. From this, the contract has become a Category F1c – £870,000 to £4.5 million – for the provision of a below the- neck system, including gloves and
footwear, for approximately 300 aircrew. The aircrew, below-neck garment will have to mesh with inservice respirators and BA, and no
mention has been made of the helmet, respirator, detector and containment system. It could well be that these are part of future plans, but currently
there has been no response from the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) press office, and the clarity of CBRN procurement appears to be still
lacking. What is known is that a great deal of the ensemble manufacturers poured a great deal of bid money into APED and I cannot imagine that they
will be too keen to completely re-write bids for a smaller contract. Enthusiasm for APED will further dip when contractors realise that the project will
be bid for via reverse auction – a system usually guaranteed to irritate and lower capability. Moving from Abbeywood (home of
DE&S for those lucky enough not to have gone) to Porton Down, the CDE recently announced a call for hazard mitigation equipment (HME).
Effectively, this is what could be termed in the US SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) call, except that it is not only for small businesses as
specialist modules of large companiesare welcome to apply. The first thing to mention – before you dear readers get too excited – is that you have most
likely missed the deadline. CDE calls are about short, sharp, proof-of-concept research projects. Each contract is worth around £30-50k and lasts three to
nine months in duration. The HME bids had to be in by the 6th September, 2012, so unless you got your hands on the online version of this magazine, the
chances are that you were unable to submit bids in time and are now forced to be a spectator. CDE has two routes to funding:
open calls, which are open 365 days a year, on any topic and are for rapid funding of creative thinking that has not usually been considered (for which
CDE has a budget of £3 million) and themed calls (which includes HME). At the time of writing there are three themed calls that have closed:
‘innovation for unmanned maritime systems’, ‘energy efficiency in defence’ and ‘HME’. There are also three that are about to start: ‘cyber situational
awareness’, ‘simulation and training’ and ‘future digital systems’. The calls, either open or themed, are not just related to defence but also security. The
unmanned systems and energy efficiency received approximately 3000 proposals and over £30 million was awarded. The best news was that in all
the calls the IP (intellectual property) remains with the company. In terms of CBRNE, the HME call fell under DSTL’s protective measures portfolio, managed
by Dr Phil Packer, and is worth £250,000 (one of the smaller calls, but any money is welcome!). This will fund a range of projects worth between
£10,000 – £100,000 for a period of three months to one year. Those involved in decon projects in the US, such as ‘Dial A Decon’, will realise that this is, in terms
of decon capability, chicken feed. But the funding is not for a capability, nor even for components, rather it is aimed at the sub-component level, i.e., a piece
of technology that might enable greater capability out of either existing pieces of technology or even in nascent ones. The UK has traditionally had a pretty
dismal decon capability, relying on other Nato partners during the Cold War and ‘partner nations’ in other conflicts after that. Even when it was
providing support to its own forces it often found that its recce assets outran its decon support. The current CDE call’s emphasis is on pre-event and, in
fairness, this is more suited to the UK approach. As a result of its shortage of existing assets, the UK MoD has focussed on self decontamination, or
more specifically, contamination avoidance, i.e., if the agent cannot stick to the platform then it reduces the need for decon. The best example of this is
the peelable coating work of Dr Stephen Mitchell (see CBRNe World Autumn, 2008). Now the CDE team will be looking to stimulate innovative thinking
on HME to better understand the limits of active and passive measures, identify and accelerate solutions, and develop a system-of-systems capability. The latter
is to be attempted via three broad areas: reactive formulations, tuneable devices, and absorbents and coatings. Within these three broad areas there are further
subdivisions and some cross-cutting capabilities such as test methods and targeting and triggering. In terms of the formulations the
team is interested in emerging technology in some of the nextgeneration decontaminants such as micro-emulsions, reactive gases,
enzymes and peroxide catalysts. They are also interested in molecular amplification for verification of bio decon. Tuneable devices will be
immediately recognisable to those involved in the US Dial A Decon: dispensing the most appropriate solution for the hazard facing the
operator. This is currently possible but has issues, such as mixing powders into liquids, that the team is looking to overcome. Within the field of tuneable
decon also lies process optimisations, and the team is interested in fostering an ability to deliver existing solutions in optimal ways. This might involve
something as simple as an innovative nozzle on existing high-pressure systems for example. This sector is concerned with more than just physical
bits of equipment, predictive models and maths or computer models that will better develop approaches to understand what is going on in the contaminated
room or platform are also of interest. The team is also interested in chemical species that selectively trigger molecular events, in the same way as
commercial detergents target certain stains (grass, red wine etc), and these can be tuned appropriately. Coatings and absorbents are perhaps some of the
most exciting elements, building as they do on the existing coatings work that DSTL has done. For example, one of the areas of research that they are
interested in exploring is on tie down sprays, so that once a vehicle has been contaminated it can be coated with a film that will prevent off-gassing/cross
contamination and can subsequently be stripped off. The team has also been playing with the power of wet/absorbent wipes (and any parents out there will
swear to the power of these) and also in agent fate, which is my personal favourite under-funded area. The final area that the team is looking at within
coatings are the disclosure systems: coatings that effect a colormetric change when they interact with CWA. FLIR currently have their Chemical
Agent Disclosure spray which works on the same principal. To one extent it is hard to get excited about this. While the thinking is
supposed to be innovative, it is so low down the food chain that it will require a significant body of funded calls to appear in future lines of development
before any improvement is seen on the front lines. There is also the likelihood that some of the funded elements will never see the light of day, because some
elements of the capability might progress whilst others might not, meaning that the whole process will stop. Ultimately, it is nice to see any funding appearing for CBRN and I hope
that this prompts the submission of some strong bids that can genuinely improve capability, if only at the subcomponent level. Those that manage to read this article in good time can find
more information on the Call at www.science.mod.uk under Calls and
Events, or more generally at www.science.mod.uk/enterprise. The
CDE team are also happy to take any queries via cde@dstl.gov.uk
Life in the old dog yet…

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