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Joint Forces Journal

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VOL. 24 - NO. 45
DEC 8 - 15, 2019
PO BOX 13283
OAKLAND, CA 94661-0283

510.595.7777 FAX

Joint Forces Journal is published privately, and in no way is connected with DoD, the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard. This website and the printed newspaper are intended for the members of the Armed Forces and their families. Contents do not necessarily reflect official views of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard, and do not imply endorsements thereof. The marital status, physical handicap, political affiliation, or any other non-merit factor of the purchases, user or patron for advertisers prohibited. If a violation or rejection of this equal opportunity policy by an advertiser is confirmed, the publisher shall refuse to print advertising from that source until the violation is corrected. Editorial content is prepared and edited privately, and is provided by the Public Affairs Office of U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard installations. Correspondence and material for publication should be addressed to: Editor, Joint Forces Journal, P.O. Box 13283, Oakland, CA, 94661-0283. Deadline for receiving articles and photos is 3 p.m. Monday for publication on Friday of that week. Joint Forces Journal editorial policy is to use bylines and photo credits where applicable and when submitted.

Army Tests Handheld Device for Detecting Liquid Chemical Agents

Nov 30, 2018
by Matthew Cox
U.S. Army research officials have developed a new, handheld chemical agent detector that can "taste" suspicious liquids to see if they are dangerous chemical warfare agents.

The VK3 uses a camera, a small computer and special paper colorimetric tickets for sensing chemical agents.

"We had seen and heard that those who are tasked with site exploitation -- the first people in a facility where somebody is making something -- needed tools to better identify the substances being made," said Army research biologist Aleksandr Miklos. "Maybe it's perfectly legal and safe, but maybe they're doing something illicit and dangerous. The first examiner has to decide what tools to bring. We thought something like this with a colorimetric array would be helpful."

Scientists and engineers across multiple branches at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Edgewood Chemical Biological Center developed the VK3 to identify a chemical agent by analyzing colorimetric sensors on a paper ticket known as an assay.

An earlier version, known as the VOCKit, identified chemicals based on vapors, a process similar to olfaction, the sense of smell.

Now, Miklos says that taste, not smell, is a better analogy.

"This started off as something that detected vapors coming off of the sample; it was very similar to how the olfactory system works," he said, noting that the device had spots that would activate in response to vapor from a sample. "By the pattern of activation, they could identify what was present. Now, we're using a ticket you add liquid to."

During the recent Chemical Biological Operational Analysis, or CBOA, the VK3 demonstrated its ability to identify chemical liquids in the field, including chemical warfare agents.

"What we were able to get was informal, verbal feedback from the assessor and from end users in the Army and civilian law enforcement," Miklos said. "Feedback was positive. They liked the size and that they could carry the entire kit around in a small container. They found it easy to use."

The device delivers clear on-screen instructions with a timer, he said.

"As soon as the system initializes, the device flashes the lights and, once it's ready, it will take pictures of the ticket," Miklos said.

The VK3 differs from other detectors, such as the Joint Chemical Agent Detector, or JCAD.

"The JCAD is a continuous monitor of vapor, while this would be for explicitly looking at a puddle or a container of something," Miklos explained. "This is also smaller, cheaper, and requires less power than the JCAD."

While the VK3 can currently identify multiple liquid chemicals relevant to the military, "it must be trained on those chemicals to identify them successfully."

Because of this, Miklos said different variants of the VK3 could be trained on different chemicals, as law enforcement users might have disparate needs from military users.

"It identifies what we train it against," Miklos explained. "It's still a research prototype, so we've trained it against a somewhat small list of things, about 50. The list is a mixture of chemical warfare agents, as well as some common stuff like bleach, diesel and insecticides.

"It's a really cool research prototype, and now we know more about how it works," he said. "The question is going to be whether it gets more funding for advanced development. What we need is for someone to say, 'Yes, we want that.' "

* * * * *

Photo caption: The VK3 is a prototype chemical identifier that can identify liquids in the field, including chemical warfare agent. (Photo: U.S. Army)


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