By Army Staff Sgt. Darron Salzer
(Released 21 August 2017) Lexington, KY — National Guard weapons of mass destruction civil support teams respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents throughout the homeland and advise and assist local and civil authorities on response measures.
A team's success can often be measured by how quickly it can analyze and identify the threat and provide incident commander with an assessment for containing the situation.
The National Guard Bureau's Malcolm Reese is leading the effort to devise innovations to shorten the time from the team's arrival on site to its assessment. Reese is the joint program manager for the combating weapons of mass destruction division of the Guard Bureau's operations directorate.
When Reese saw an innovative opportunity to repurpose the Army's Talon IV robots, he and the Joint Product Manager CBRNE Analytics and Response Systems developed and tested DoD's first robotic CBRN capability.
"What we basically did was take a system that was already designed for a particular mission requirement and ... re-mission [it] for the civil support teams," said Reese, whose job is to help validate new technologies that could strengthen the National Guard's CBRN capabilities.
The Talon IV was used in Iraq and Afghanistan by explosive ordnance disposal teams, and equipment became available for other applications as those missions wound down. To ready the robots for the CBRN mission, chemical, biological, radiological and toxic industrial material sensors were installed, as well as an upgraded communication system, infrared day/night cameras and an autonomous mapping system.
Remote Entry to Unknown Environments
These upgrades allow for remote entry to unknown CBRN environments, Reese said. "[It] eliminates the need to put soldiers and airmen in harm's way without compromising the mission," he added.
WMD-CST personnel, as hazardous materials technicians, must don extensive protective equipment before entering a contaminated area. Reese said that process can take up valuable time, and the protective equipment can be restrictive when conducting reconnaissance to verify the type and extent of contamination.
Eliminating the need to "suit up" is a force multiplier for Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brett Whitfill, a survey team chief from the Kansas National Guard's 73rd Civil Support Team.
"With this [equipment] we could pull it out of our truck or trailer, set it up and send it downrange to investigate," he said. "We [can] get real-time data and real-time feedback."
In addition to data gathering, Whitfill said, the robots will allow teams to work longer hours. "It doesn't get tired; it doesn't want to sleep," he said. "We get multiple hours of use with it, and that is valuable."
Whitfill and other CST members from Hawaii, New York and Ohio recently attended a one-week training course at the Robot Logistics Support Center here, familiarizing themselves with the new equipment. So far, 26 of the Guard's 57 teams have attended that training.
"It's been a really positive experience," said Tim Nichols, lead instructor and repair technician at the center. "The teams [responded to] the equipment really well and ... interfaced with the controls, which are very similar to a lot of modern video games."
In addition to working with the Guard Bureau, the RLSC also provides robot sustainment and training support to the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and other joint services.
Nichols said the opportunity to train and equip the CST mission was another testament to how his organization has helped to give a second life to equipment that could otherwise be collecting dust.
"[It] is a win for everyone," he said. "It allows the utilization of equipment that is already in the government's inventory and draws on more than a decade of experience that the RLSC has to offer."
More importantly, Nichols noted, the robots save lives. "The CST mission is unique and unpredictable," he said. "The robots eliminate CST members from having to perform dangerous and mundane tasks."
Innovation as a Priority
Innovative ideas that reduce risk to Guard members, improve capabilities and save taxpayer dollars are of the utmost interest to senior leaders, Reese said, including Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, who has made innovation one of his top priorities. Innovation is simply part of the organization's DNA, he added.
"The vast majority of Guardsmen have civilian and military skills," he said. "As a result, they approach military problems with a different perspective."
To capitalize on that spirit, Lengyel launched the National Guard Innovation and Agility Campaign to help drive and facilitate ideas from across the force and build upon the inherent ability of citizen soldiers and airmen to be agile problem solvers.
"With innovation as a top priority, we continue to look for ways to validate current and emerging technologies to provide more dynamic capabilities to our men and women," Reese said.