New DoD Chemical Agent Detector

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed an inexpensive way to test the U.S. military’s handheld chemical detectors.

The Joint Chemical Agent Detector (JCAD) has become an important defense tool on battlefields and in war-torn cities over the last few years. About the size and shape of a hardcover novel, JCADs sound an alarm and begin to light up if nerve agents such as sarin or blister agents such as mustard gas are present.

According to the NIST, the detectors are already designed to withstand intense environments and repeated use. But when the Department of Defense wanted a way to check the devices’ sensitivity to chemicals over time, a measurement team at the NIST was called in to provide a cost-effective solution.

The result is an accessory device, known as the Threshold Confidence Checker, or TCC, which weighs just a few grams and looks vaguely like a cigarette lighter. The TCCs can be slid on top of the chemical detectors so that an exact measurement can be made of each device’s sensing capabilities.

TCCs demand no special operator training or scientific knowledge and offer a repeatable test that costs less than $1 per use. The test takes only a few moments, and detectors do not need to be taken out of service while the critical components are verified.

The small, inexpensive TCCs are vastly different from the first solution that was offered to the testing problem, which involved using a large spectrometer to identify vapors by detecting their chemical signatures in infrared light.

To run a test, an operator simply loads the TCC onto the intake area of the detector. Inside the TCC, a small glass ampoule contains a known quantity of chemical stimulants that are safe and non-toxic to people, but that cause the devices to react as if they had been exposed to the dangerous nerve and blister agents.

The Department of Defense, which funded the research, has now announced it will begin large-scale production of these testing devices, and a private company has already been contracted to make 60,000 for immediate use.