Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and Partners Unveil New System for Large-Scale Chemical Agent Testing

(Released 15 June 2015) A new capability for material, component and large-scale, system-level chemical agent testing was unveiled during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 27th at ECBC.

The Non-Traditional Agent Defense Test System (NTADTS) is designed to provide a safe and specialized testing capability for diverse chemical defense items in support of the Warfighters and nation. The capability provides operationally relevant testing across all commodity areas, including protection, decontamination and contamination avoidance.

Using custom-designed temperature and humidity controls, the NTADTS can simulate almost all operational conditions from the Arctic to the Persian Gulf. Also, current environmentally conditioned test chambers are limited to testing equipment at the component level, rather than actual immersion of the entire device in an aerosol cloud. The NTADTS large chamber allows the entire system under test to become fully immersed in a chemical atmosphere – the operationally relevant conditions necessary prior to fielding.

“Today is a great day for the Army, the chem-bio defense enterprise and the nation,” said ECBC Director Joseph Corriveau, Ph.D. “We have been working toward this day for more than a decade, and today we finally open the Non-Traditional Agent Defense Test System. This facility expands our capabilities to ensure that the safest and best equipment gets into the hands of the Warfighter.

“There is no facility anywhere in the world that allows us to test entire systems against non-traditional threats. Testing and analysis that once had to be done one piece at a time under a hood can now be done as entire functioning systems in environmentally controlled conditions, providing more operationally relevant data.”

The ceremony capped off a multi-year effort to design and construct the system while ensuring it met both military and industry requirements for safe testing and operations. Several leaders from across the chemical-biological defense community attended the event, including U.S. Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland’s 2nd District; Dr. C. David Brown, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Developmental Test and Evaluation; Jyuji Hewitt, Deputy Director, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command; John Fischer, Director of Chemical and Biological Defense, Department of Homeland Security; Carmen Spencer, Joint Program Executive Officer for Chemical and Biological Defense; Conrad Whyne, Program Executive Officer, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives; and retired Maj. Gen. Stephen Reeves, former Joint Program Executive Officer for Chemical and Biological Defense.

“The last time I was (at ECBC),” Ruppersberger told the gathering at the ceremony, “It was to welcome home the team responsible for destroying a large chemical weapon stockpile in Syria. In a civilized society, the world cannot stand by and watch. The threats are real. Systems like the NTADTS will ensure our Armed Forces have what they need to do their missions every day.”

Collaboration across the chemical-biological enterprise was recognized as key to bringing this world- capability online. ECBC scientists and engineers collaborated with partners from government and industry to make the NTADTS a reality. While engineers designed and built the system and its precursors, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) funded the basic research required to make the facility work – agent characterization, toxicology, decontamination technology, materials compatibility. Along the way, new processes were developed, existing processes were improved upon, and state-of-the art safety features were installed.

Design and construction of the system was managed by the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD) Joint Project Manager for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Contamination Avoidance (JPM-NBC CA), led by Col. Alfred Abramson. “This was a team effort – a collaborative effort – that will serve to get us to the next-generation chemical detector. In an environment of reduced budgets, we must collaborate across the chem-bio enterprise to deliver new capabilities to the Warfighter,” Abramson said.

“As the Director of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, I am delighted that this capability now resides here at the Center,” said Corriveau. “But, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that this facility would not exist without an incredible amount of collaborative effort – from DTRA’s funding of the basic science that made this facility possible, to the JPEO’s shepherding of the program though the acquisition process, to all of the partners who played a role in bringing this day to fruition. Today is a win for all of us.”

Components of the new facility include the Primary Containment Module (PCM), a large environmentally controlled test chamber, and the Test Chamber Module (TCM), a large, double glove box chamber to house test fixtures. The Aerosol Test Facility (ATF), a chamber specifically designed to handle aerosol toxicological and detector testing, rounds out the system’s capabilities.

The NTADTS test chambers have the inherent flexibility to address the rapidly changing threat environment the Warfighter faces on the battlefield. It can be used for both science and technology (S&T) and test and evaluation (T&E) work in support of contamination avoidance, individual protection, collective protection and decontamination commodity areas. The system also features a control room, surety laboratory, agent storage facility, and ingress and egress rooms.

In addition to supporting ECBC’s Warfighter mission, the NTADTS also allows ECBC to continue to serve federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community, and its international partners.

“As awareness and understanding of non-traditional agents has grown, so has the need to perform tests under these conditions, which includes developing the infrastructure necessary to support that testing,” said Michael Abaie, ECBC Director of Engineering. “This system is a national asset, and we welcome our partners from across the T&E enterprise to come here and put it to work for our Warfighters.”

The system will be fully operational in fall 2015.