The threats of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) hazards continue to advance. CBRN weapons are some of the most indiscriminate and deadly weapons in existence today, with capability to affect large population in wide geographical area and in short time. The release of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) materials, whether deliberate or accidental, may have the potential to cause serious harm and severe disruption to the delivery of vital public services over a wide geographical area.
Biological weapons achieve their intended effects by infecting people with disease-causing microorganisms and other replicative entities, including viruses, infectious nucleic acids and prions. The chief characteristic of biological agents is their ability to multiply in a host over time.
Because of recent terrorist events, people have expressed concern about the possibility of a terrorist attack involving radioactive materials, possibly through the use of a “dirty bomb,” and the harmful effects of radiation from such an event. All of these and the recent Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa indicate chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons are a real threat.
According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, there were a total of 143 attacks – 35 biological, 95 chemical, and 13 radiological – using CBRN weapons across the world from 1970 to 2014. The rising global trend for civil war and internal conflict, especially in large cities, increases the probability that industrialized chemicals will either intentionally or accidentally become a hazard to military and security forces or the localities’ residents.
The threat of CBRN attacks against military forces and civilian populations is growing. State and non-state actors are increasingly willing to use these indiscriminate methods, and knowledge of CBRN agent manufacturing processes is proliferating.
Reported Syrian government use of nerve agent (G) on civilian populations in 2017 is one example. Alleged use of advanced nerve agent by North Korea (Vx) in a politically motivated assassination that same year shows a further willingness to employ lethal capability. Lastly, assassination attempts in 2018 and 2020 attributed to Russia using Novichok agents suggest a repeated readiness to use the most deadly of nerve agents to achieve national objectives with disregard for international treaties
The relative ease with which malicious actors could obtain many of the materials and know-how and wide range of dissemination techniques makes them appealing to extremist groups. A greater proliferation through the internet of the knowledge necessary to make CBRNE threats, coupled with the trends of rapid innovation and improvisation witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan with IEDs, will make threat prediction difficult. Weaponized materials can be delivered using conventional bombs (e.g., pipe bombs), improved explosive materials (e.g., fuel oil-fertilizer mixture) and enhanced blast weapons (e.g., dirty bombs).
Future military operations are envisioned to be more diverse, contested across all domains, and to require rapid decision making to enable decisive maneuver. Conducting-multi-domain operations in a CBRN environment further exacerbates the challenge for military forces, both at home and on the battlefield. It also seems clear the diversity of threat is continually expanding and evolving to more lethal materials, with increasingly sophisticated delivery methods. To be successful, defense forces must be able to sense hazards more rapidly, at greater speed, increased standoff distance, and to share intelligence faster throughout the formation.
CBRN defence remains an indispensible part of the strategic security preparedness of all nations. The overarching goal of CBRN Defense measures is keeping CBRN environments from having adverse effect on personnel, equipment, critical assets and facilities. This includes providing the most advanced diagnostic equipment and countermeasure technology for identifying and protecting against imminent threats.
Technology has the capability to enable teams to respond faster and more flexibly to CBRN events; achieve enhanced situational awareness; and manoeuvre safely, effectively and unimpeded in complex contaminated environments for prolonged periods of time.
In the early 2000’s, the U.S. Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO CBRND) developed and fielded the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBCRV) to the U.S. Army to provide route and area NBC reconnaissance for Armor and Infantry Forces.
The current NBCRV system is composed mostly of point detection sensors and therefore must be ‘in the middle’ of a threat for detection to occur. The defence against CBRN attack is transitioning to standoff detection of these threats in order to reduce the threat and the risk for population. In contrast to the point detection systems, which requires close proximity to the samples that need to be analyzed, the stand-off detection systems allows to analyze samples remotely, thus making possible an early identification of the contamination source.
As the detection and identification of CBRNE threats is an expensive, meticulous, dangerous and painful endeavour for CBRNE protection forces, countries seek novel solutions including remote sensing to develop and improve their CBRNE detection and identification capabilities. Various laser absorption spectroscopy (LAS)-based remote detection techniques have been developed and fielded recently, including differential absorption LiDAR, tunable laser absorption spectroscopy, laser photoacoustic spectroscopy, dual-comb spectroscopy, laser heterodyne radiometry and active coherent laser absorption spectroscopy for chemical detection.
Standoff CBRN Detection
There is thrust on development of stand-off detection technologies which allow detection of even small quantities of an agent from large distances in a real environment. Stand-off detection relies on the absorption of infrared radiation by molecules of a gas. There are two types of standoff detection active and passive, the main difference being utilization of an integrated source of radiation for the active stand-off detection system.
Stand-off detection and warning of CBRN represent the main goal to be achieved in order to reduce the threat and the risk for population. In contrast to the point detection systems, which requires close proximity to the samples that need to be analyzed, the stand-off detection systems allows to analyze samples remotely, thus making possible an early identification of the contamination source.
The objective of Chemical Standoff Detection is to develop and demonstrate passive and active concepts for remote detection, identification, ranging, and mapping of chemical clouds in all physical forms. The Bio Standoff Detection focuses on development and demonstration of concepts for remote detection, identification, ranging, and mapping of biological particulate clouds.
With the maturation of commercially available drones, it is now possible to utilize the information or indications from existing standoff sensors not as a detection event but rather as a trigger to initiate higher fidelity measurement. The biological and chemical warfare agent detecting standoff systems can cue a CBRN sensor-integrated drone, to fly to a waypoint in space for more specific interrogation of a suspect aerosol or vapor plume. In this way we are not requiring performance from the standoff sensor that it cannot achieve, and we are not requiring soldiers to come in contact with the threat to utilize the point sensor.
Unmanned systems allow us to extend our higher fidelity point sensor capability kilometers away. Likewise, persistent chemical threat agents might be employed as terrain denial weapons, making it necessary to survey areas and routes for ground contamination. The currently-fielded manned NBCRV Stryker would be required to drive over and onto the threat to detect the presence of ground contamination. However, CW sensors mounted on unmanned ground platforms like the Textron RIPSAW M5 Robotic Combat Vehicle could accomplish this mission from remote distances.
Unmanned aircrafts are an ideal choice when operations are required in environments that would be hostile to a manned aircraft or its crew. Airborne sampling or observation missions related to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats would be ideally suited to unmanned aircrafts. Standoff detection technologies are enabling Sensors can be fitted to a range of unmanned vehicles like armored vehicles to large aircrafts for global monitoring.
Recently Long-range detection equipment mounted onto UAVs are giving end-users the ability to recognize threats sooner and at further distances. Miniature unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) carrying gamma probes and chemical sensors have now been specifically developed for use in counter-CBRN missions.
Their disadvantages also include the relatively short flight time of the currently offered UAVs, especially in the case of multirotors. The necessity to interrupt the flight and measurements, landing, battery replacement, and re-take-off limit the usefulness of UAVs use during rescue operations. Therefore, modernization of UAVs towards full autonomy (e.g., automatic landing and battery replacement) and relieving the operator (rescuer) is increasingly important for the possibility of using it in rescue operations, when immediate information on CBRN threats are essential.
Unmanned vehicles equipped with remote sensors have great potential to monitor environment, detect and identify these threats rapidly and manage the consequences of CBRN attacks. For instance, in 2017, the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) initiated an Autonomous Drone Services (AUDROS) project to detect and identify CBRNE threats using satellite and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) together.
Similarly, the Australian Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group working with industries including Strategic Elements, Stealth Technologies and Planck Aero systems seek autonomous CBRN sensing and search by deploying Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) and UAV.
Integration and maximum use of standoff sensing could reduce the potential risk of operators being exposed to CBRN hazards. This has long been a capability desire but has been difficult to achieve due to the insufficient performance of current technologies employed for biological and chemical standoff detection systems. The standoff detection equipment is now being integrated onto aircraft, vehicles, and ships to limit direct exposure and proximity to such dangers.
Decision support tools
Beyond developing a modular system suitable for manned and unmanned platforms, perhaps the greatest capability improvement will come from combining the data of multiple point, standoff, and non-CBRN sensors. This will enable data aggregation that leads to the creation of meaningful, relevant information for decision-makers. In addition to task automation – driving new system responses from sensing cues – we will be able to quickly present new and enhanced situational understanding to warfighters so they can focus on active response. This data integration opens up a major opportunity to design and implement numerous decision support tools already in development
Lean-Sensing approach for the detection of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) hazards
The Homeland Defense and Security Information Analysis Center (HDIAC) is a Department of Defense (DoD) has developed a Lean-Sensing approach for the detection of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) hazards.
When a CBRN attack is suspected, the ability to quickly and remotely confirm the attack is vital to avoid further potential contamination. Researchers at Science and Engineering Services developed a Lean-Sensing approach that utilizes a small Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) plus a low-cost, quad-rotor Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS).
These systems can geo-locate hazards from a distance using Lidar, which can offer real-time eight digit latitudes and longitudes, and they can detect/identify/report the hazard via on-board camera and communications in minutes. On-board sensing can be as simple as M-8 Paper or more sophisticated and involve the use of a joint chemical agent detector (JCAD), radiation detector (Radiac), tactical biological detector (TacBio) or instantaneous bio-analyzer and collector (IBAC). Chemical/Biological/Radiological (CBR) sensors can be easily integrated on a commercial, off the shelf, multi-rotor drone.
The researchers recently tested key aspects of the Lean-Sensing construct. An SDS-Lite was used to detect, map and track a chemical cloud target measuring approximately 150 meters wide by 1,500 meters long. They were able to obtain a logical geo-located point that was then loaded into a quad-rotor drone mission plan. Based on the mission plan, the total mission time for travel and sensing/imaging was about four minutes, with another optional two minutes for a return flight with sample(s) for further analysis. The Lean-Sensing approach offers real potential for cutting exposure risk, response time and life-cycle cost by precision unmanned delivery of a detector early in the response sequence.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program for CBRNE Detection Capability
Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) is developing drones to investigate a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive (CBRNE) threat from standoff distance. This unmanned aircraft system is a “quad-copter” design which uses four propellers to achieve vertical take-off and landing.
The systems have the capability to take images of the scene, maneuver into small spaces, and use sensors to take readings and collect samples. All the while, the warfighter or first responder sees everything the unmanned aircraft system sees.
“This has been an ongoing effort for the past two years,” said Mark Colgan, leader of ECBC’s Unmanned Systems Team. “We’ve made a lot of advances in the last year with modular payloads, sensors, and detectors, and we are continuing to expand the platform and payload capabilities.”
One example of a payload is a solid sample collection device carried by the unmanned aircraft system directly to the CBRNE threat where a sample can be collected and flown back for testing. Another example payload is using the unmanned aircraft system to quickly fly needed supplies in an emergency situation. “We can integrate payloads to satisfy a broad range of mission needs,” said Sparks. “The possibilities are endless.”
“You can attach a surveying instrument to the unmanned aircraft systems we’re developing and by using the unmanned aircraft system to do it, not only are you not putting anyone in harm’s way, you can also survey a larger area at one time.”- Corey Piepenburg, ECBC Mechanical Engineer .The team started with Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) requirement to transport and remotely deliver a five-pound payload. Next steps in the DTRA project include increasing both the unmanned aircraft system’s payload carrying capacity and flight time.
Drone Swarms and Collaborative platforms
Drones allow terrorists to collect intelligence prior to an attack, bypass ground-based physical barriers, and carry out highly effective chemical and biological weapons attacks.
For state actors, the growth and proliferation of drone swarms offer new, sophisticated ways to carry out CBRN attacks, defeat traditional CBRN weapons, and respond to a successful attack. At the same time, the United States Department of Defense is working hard to combat these threats and recently issued a new strategy around countering small drones
In the future the use of swarms of drones in decontamination efforts could also be possible in the future as advances are made in UAV technology and in nanotechnology. CBRN detection equipment is being integrated into command and control structures and investments are trending toward multi-platform, multi-detection and multi-application technologies.
Integrating multiple sensors onto multiple platforms dramatically increases the operational effectiveness of CBRN units by allowing for more rapid deployment, detection, and dissemination of equipment and information. Historically, the speed at which information was transmitted to command personnel slowed response times and put responders in danger. The goal with integrated CBRN systems is to increase the operational awareness and flexibility of decision makers.
Beyond developing a modular system suitable for manned and unmanned platforms, perhaps the greatest capability improvement will come from combining the data of multiple point, standoff, and non-CBRN sensors. This will enable data aggregation that leads to the creation of meaningful, relevant information for decision-makers. In addition to task automation – driving new system responses from sensing cues – we will be able to quickly present new and enhanced situational understanding to warfighters so they can focus on active response. This data integration opens up a major opportunity to design and implement numerous decision support tools already in development.
DST Group 0f Australian Department of Defence sponsors Collaborative UAVs and UGVs
The DST Group is part of the Australian Department of Defence dedicated to providing science and technology support to safeguard Australia and its national interests. One of the key DST Group priorities is to improve the Australian Defence Forces’ CBRN defence capability through the protection of personnel from the strategic, tactical and physiological impacts of exposure to toxic chemicals and materials and CBRN weapons.
The proposal of the feasibility and scoping study is to integrate DST-developed search algorithms for locating CBRN sources within a geographic area, into a Stealth Technologies UAV (drone) that is autonomously launched and landed by a Stealth Technologies autonomous UGV (ground vehicle). The autonomous UGV would enable carriage of drones and sensors into the target environment keeping humans at a safe distance. The autonomous UAV enables rapid traversing of the area using sensors to map and/or monitor the location of CBRN sources.
Stealth Technologies has developed custom robotics built on top of its AxV autonomous mobile platform to develop the first ‘automated perimeter security solution’ of its kind anywhere in the world. The Company collaborated with US giant Honeywell and the Western Australian Department of Justice to deploy an autonomous security vehicle (ASV) at the Eastern Kalgoorlie Regional Prison. The ASV is being deployed to increase the security of the perimeter and reduce the amount of human involvement in testing and patrols, freeing those staff up for more skilled tasks. The global perimeter security market is forecast to grow quickly reaching USD 282.26 Billion by 2025.
Stealth Technologies next generation AxV Autonomous Platform is being upgraded with a ‘sensor fusion stack’ that includes additional sensors such as LiDAR, radar, GPS, sonar, thermal imaging and different types of cameras, with each sensor adding different strengths to the fusion data generated. New autonomous releases are being designed for use in various sectors such as security, mining and defence.
The Sensor Fusion stack will also include integration with ongoing collaborative work with Planck AeroSystems enabling Autonomous Drones to launch and land autonomous surveillance flights from a moving ASV platform. Planck is a global leader working with the United States Department of Defense’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), the United States Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security on various aspects of its technology.
In addition, the CSIRO Wildcat SLAM technology will also be integrated with the Sensor Fusion stack. The Company has licensed world leading CSIRO technology that enables robots to work together in teams. The Wildcat SLAM technology leverages more than ten years of research and development at CSIRO’s Data61. Wildcat is a key enabling technology in ‘robot perception’, a system that endows the robot with the ability to perceive, comprehend and reason about the surrounding environment.