DEPLOYED SOLDIERS FACE THE RISK of being exposed to chemical warfare agents that can be incapacitating or life threatening. If a Soldier is exposed to a chemical agent, identifying the chemical hazard quickly is critical. The Army currently uses the M256A2 chemical detector system to test for chemical agents in the field. It takes approximately fifteen minutes to complete and requires multiple steps and verifications.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center developed the Multi-agent Identification Kit and Equipment, or MIKE, Buttpack system, a low-cost test kit with components including draeger tubes, which are currently in the dismounted reconnaissance sets, kits and outfits used by non-chemical, biological and radiological personnel.
“With the MIKE Buttpack system, a Soldier follows the detector instructions on a lamented card and uses a hand pump to pass potentially contaminated air through the detector ampule. The whole process is very quick,” said James Jensen, CBC senior scientist.
The project began in response to a need for maneuver, infantry and rangers in small, forward squads to have a smaller, easy-to-use capability to detect chemical hazards. The MIKE Buttpack was designed as a complimentary capability for forward, austere missions where untrained or minimally trained Soldiers can determine if chemical agent is present.
The goal of the MIKE Buttpack project was to repackage and modify a commercial-off-the-shelf product designed to detect nerve, blister and blood agents. The system uses a ruggedized, commercial detection system, the Dräger Civil Defense Set, which includes chemical detector tubes that change color if a chemical agent is present. The CBC also developed training materials and manuals for the kit.
The project is a joint effort between the Chemical Biological Center and the U.S. Army Foreign Comparative Testing program, which provided funding for initial training and warfighter experiments. The FCT program is a congressionally authorized program that is executed by the Army by the CCDC Global Technology Office, which receives oversight from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Comparative Technology Office.
“The system is easy-to-use, lightweight and training is easy to understand and implement,” Jensen said. “We anticipate the system will reduce the logistics footprint compared to the current system Soldiers use.”
Plans for the MIKE Buttpack will initially include niche applications where a reduced logistics footprint is critical. These applications could include special operations missions where Soldiers may deploy without resupply for an extended period of time. If the technology is successful in niche applications, the MIKE Buttpack could transition to a larger role in the Army.
The MIKE Buttpack was evaluated at the 2019 U.S. Army Maneuver Battle Lab Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment, or AEWE, which assesses technology in realistic environments. The event, which ran from October 2018 through March 2019, serves as venue for capability developers, the science and technology community and industry to test technology.
The AEWE was comprised of two phases: a live fire, non-network assessment and a force-on-force assessment. The overall objective of the experiment focused on increasing small tactical unit effectiveness in a multi-domain operational environment, including sustainment, mobility, lethality, survivability and mission command. Typical mission types at AEWE included: attack, defend, ambush and reconnaissance.
At the AEWE 2019, Soldiers participated in an individual assessment of the MIKE Buttpack where the training and practical exercises were specifically tailored to the technology. Soldiers at the one-day assessment received training from draeger professionals, along with government representatives. The practical, hands-on exercise tested the Soldiers’ knowledge of the system and its capabilities.
Soldiers carried the MIKE Buttpack during squad, platoon and company tactical missions during both phases of AEWE where they were exposed to simulated chemical threats multiple times. The simulants are non-toxic chemicals that react with a sensor to provide a color change that simulates a real chemical attack. A chemically contaminated environment presents unique requirements for Soldiers. In addition to wearing personal protective clothing in contaminated environments, Soldiers are trained to operate in Mission Oriented Protective Posture, or MOPP, levels, which range from one to four. The MOPP level at AEWE was four, which requires the highest level of protection.
Fourteen Soldiers completed electronic surveys at AEWE on size and weight, training and areas to improve the MIKE Buttpack system. The analytical team conducted interviews with the Soldiers to gather their initial impressions of the system, as well as their views on the effectiveness of the system.
“The MIKE Buttpack system was well received by Soldiers during AEWE. The Soldiers noted that it was easy to learn how to use the system. The AEWE final assessment stated the MIKE Buttpack offers improvements that would support maneuver as compared to the current M256A2 kit,” Jensen said.