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Speeding the Response to CBRN Threats

Brussels - 20 December, 2012

The EDA is becoming ever more active as a focal point for European Union nations looking for technical solutions to the growing challenge of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) attacks, writes Tim Mahon in the second issue of the EDA's European Defence Matters magazine.

Military and civil emergency management planners face a significant and constantly evolving threat with the potential terrorist use of chemical, biological and radiological weapons. Detection and identification of agents – quickly and efficiently, to allow incident commanders to take appropriate remedial action – is the basis of efficient defence in this domain. And the EDA has responded by generating a multinational research and technology programme aimed at making that easier.

As a paradigm for pooling and sharing of knowledge, the current category A programme for CBRN technologies is a four-year, €12 million joint investment project aimed at examining and evaluating the next generation of technologies for detection and identification of chemical, biological and similar threats – in both military and civil environments. The project has been running since 2010 and is moving rapidly towards its second highly active phase.

Alignment with European Commission

“We are aiming far beyond the current status quo – for the next generation of technologies,” said Gerlof De Wilde, EDA’s Assistant Director for Research and Technology and the programme’s project manager, adding that this means harnessing and deploying technologies beyond the 2015 timeframe. Although on the surface the programme differs little from other research and technology (R&T) projects in the Agency’s remit, in fact there are some characteristics of the CBRN joint investment programme that set it apart.


“One of the specific characteristics of this project is that we are aligning our work with that of the European Commission in this area,” said De Wilde. Cooperation with the European Commission’s framework research programme has focused on detection and identification of chemical and biological agents and should empower better use of resources which will inevitably lead to more far-reaching results, in De Wilde’s view. “We have agreed the objectives and procedures – this is the first mature action in which we have done this – have been involved in joint workshops and are conducting joint evaluation at every stage,” he said.

Broad involvement of Member States
The Agency’s programme is thus being supported by 13 member states – Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Norway. The first call for proposals resulted in 22 separate submissions being made from industry, academia and research institutes, which are now being evaluated with contracts to be let before the end of this year, according to De Wilde. The first call focused on technologies for detection and identification, modelling and simulation of CBRN architectures and methodologies for handling a broad spectrum of unknown samples, an area in which De Wilde says there is a significant capability gap. The second call for proposals, due to take place in the spring of 2013, will focus on next generation decontamination for personal and collective protection.

Nations have serious concerns about the need for adequate detection and diagnostic capabilities for potential CBRN threats. Although over 150 nations subscribe to treaties governing the non-proliferation of such weapons, there are significant evolving threats involving non-state actors. "After all, terrorists (for example) don't care about treaties," said De Wilde. Combined with the effects of budget constraints and pressure on limited resources, these concerns mean that an opportunity to pool and share in the development of a next generation response to these threats is attractive to many nations.


Technical challenges

The technical challenges are complex. Detection needs to be quick, accurate and tied to a fast-time simulation model which can assess the spread of the threat in a given environment. The result is that the next generation of detection technologies will feature a high degree of automation. The capability to evaluate mixed samples is something that simply does not exist in a robust format today, according to De Wilde.


Improvements in modelling and simulation – in which the Agency has proposed use of software it developed under the BIOEDEP programme – will also provide CBRN professionals with vastly improved capability. 

In a challenging and politically sensitive area of research and technology, EDA’s CBRN programme is resonating with a broad spectrum of community members. Perhaps the single most important outcome to date, however, has been the recognition of the benefits accruing to contributing members, especially from the collaboration with non-military research with the European Commission. “We have become part of a broader family with this project and it promises to become a true generator of useful and exploitable knowledge,” said De Wilde.


More information:
  • To learn more about EDA's BioEDEP programme, click here
  • To access the second issue of the EDA's European Defence Matters magazine, click here

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