Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ECBC "Homegrown Talents” Welcomed Assets in the Joint Project Manager for Biological Defense

For nearly 15 years, the Joint Project Manager for Biological Defense (JPM-BD) has maintained a longstanding partnership with Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC). With a robust mission to create and sustain affordable materiel solutions that can detect, identify, warn, deter and defeat biological threats to the joint forces, Acting JPM-BD Joe Cartelli says the “homegrown talents” of ECBC’s Engineering and Research & Technology (R&T) Directorates have been welcomed assets to achieve the JPM’s mission.
“We’ve been grateful to use the expertise of ECBC, particularly the Engineering and R&T Directorates,” Cartelli said. “We have a strong relationship with the Center.”
ECBC provides lifecycle acquisition personnel and associated acquisition and engineering services to the JPEO-CBD and its JPMs throughout all acquisition phases of CB defense equipment programs. Currently, 53 ECBC Engineering employees are matrixed to JPM-BD.
“In terms of hiring, I’d say that 95 percent of our hiring has been through the Engineering Directorate. We have more than 50 individuals from Engineering that make up our JPM-BD personnel. It helps to know that we have support to get the needed personnel. Engineering does a great job of getting us the right staff,” Cartelli said.
JPM-BD provides defensive equipment and technology to detect and identify biological threats in near-real-time. Their family of biological detection systems collect and assimilate data for commanders who require an understanding of natural and man-made biological hazards in their areas of operation.
The JPM’s work in system acquisition falls into two primary areas: point detection and standoff detection. The systems are critical to the areas of sense, shield and sustain and meet the needs of U.S. Armed Forces to warn personnel of imminent hazards (pre-attack) and aid in the treatment of personnel exposed to a biological hazard (post-attack).
The science required for the near-real-time detection and identification of biological agents in the environment has numerous challenges. Biological agent detection and identification science relies upon the development of unique sensing technology, algorithms and procedures in order to detect the micron-sized biological particles that mimic what already exists in the environment. Unlike chemical agent detection and identification, near-real-time biological agent detection and identification requires the acquisition of orthogonal technologies that are under development by JPM-BD as well as the JPM Chemical Biological Medical Systems and JPM Gaurdian.

“Chemical agents are unnatural, and they react with the air, making it easier to detect,” said JPM-BD Deputy of Point Biological Systems Tom Buonaugurio. “With biological detectors, the air must be sampled and concentrated first to determine if there are any agents in the air. Scientists look for toxins, spores and bacteria in order to detect biological contamination in the air.

“Point detection in particular sucks in the air and then analyzes whether or not there are unknown agents. However, this procedure only indicates that there is something in the air; not whether it is harmful. The airstreams are then mixed with phosphate buffer solution and placed on strips that act as pregnancy tests, which identify the agent.”

The Engineering Directorate’s work in Bio-Defense began in earnest after the Gulf War in 1991 when Iraq threatened the use of biological weapons against various neighboring states. One of the most notable projects ECBC Engineering undertook in Bio-Defense was a point detection system called the BIDS. The program was conducted in three phases: the M31 Non-Developmental item (NDI) BIDS (initially fielded in 1995 and retired in 2006); the M31A1 Pre- Planned Product Improvement (P3I) BIDS, (initially fielded in 1999 and retired in 2011); and the M31A2 BIDS (initially fielded in 2003). The first generation of the BIDS combined a variety of standard laboratory equipment into a military vehicle to provide early warning and identification capabilities in response to a large area biological warfare attack. The NDI BIDS was a manual system and served as a predecessor for the semi-automated P3I M32A2 BIDS as well as the fully automated M31A2 BIDS, whose acquisition program was initiated in July 1996 by the Joint Product Manager for the JBPDS (a direct-reporting JPM to the JPM-BD).

System engineering design and testing lasted six years, and operational testing and evaluations added another seven years. For more than 10 years, the JPM has acquired systems under an extended Low Rate Initial Production and Full Rate Production, and currently there are more that 50 JBPDS on U.S. Navy surface ships and approximately 450 in the U.S. Army’s M31A2 BIDS.

“Engineering was involved in the integration of BIDS between1996-2007. In response to the events of September 11th, the DoD had an immediate need for an automated point biological detection capability around the Pentagon Reservation,” Cartelli said. “The JPM-BD worked with Engineering’s ADM to integrate JBPDSs into eight Homeland Defense trailers and within two months deployed these around the Pentagon.”

ECBC has also assisted JPM-BD in the development of their standoff detection family of systems. The general concept behind standoff detection is to sense agents in the air several kilometers before they travel to the Warfighter. The goal is to minimize the exposure to harmful agents. Standoff tries to give advance warning and promote situational readiness. The technology is complex and extensive but useful for Soldiers.

“JPM-BD’s standoff detection team relied heavily on ECBC to help mature the technology and to make sure that all went well with the projects,” Lead Systems Engineer John Strawbridge said. “We worked with Engineering’s ADM Division and also with Engineering’s Acquisitions and Logistics Division. We understand what the Directorate can provide and we keep the lines of communication open.”

In addition to JPM-BD’s acquisition support of point and standoff biological detection systems, the JPM’s science and technology (S&T) strategy team is working towards the development of an environmental biological surveillance system using Advanced Technology Demonstrations as a test bed.

“Currently, there is not an effective way to detect the rare and complex biological elements in the air. The air environment itself may be causing issues the Warfighters,” Cartelli said. “Without any way to distinguish potentially harmful biological agents in the air from other ‘normal’ biological elements, they are at risk of being exposed.”

In order to provide protection for the Warfighter, JPM-BD’s S&T team has been in the process of researching the technology needed to develop this environmental biological surveillance system.

From providing technical and functional expertise to administrative tasks, Cartelli noted that “having the extended capabilities afforded by the Engineering Directorate has allowed JPM-BD to better meet the requirements and demand for biological detection systems.

“JPM-BD has a strong relationship with Engineering, partly because we are co-located at Edgewood and partly because the folks in Engineering are looking to partner and share information for the purpose of bettering the state of Bio-Technology and DoD’s Bio-Defense capabilities,” Cartelli said. “We are able to accomplish a lot of things because we are both committed to the Warfighter, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with ECBC.”

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