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USSOCOM Experiment Yields Valuable User Feedback for CBRN Defense Developers

Simulated CBRN training scenario during RDAX Dragon Spear 2023. The service member wears the uniform integrated protection ensemble family of systems general purpose (UIPE FOS GP) suit and M50 joint service general purpose mask (JSGPM) and uses robot dogs equipped with CBRN sensors. Photo: Alexandra Hillman, JPEO-CBRND Public Affairs

The training scenarios used during RDAX Dragon Spear were designed to simulate not only the environment, but also the operational challenges that Special Operations Forces (SOF) face in a CBRN-contested space.

Rapid access to cutting edge CBRN defense equipment is critical to the readiness and safety of the joint force, particularly for those who are at the “tip of the spear,” like US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) operators.

To that end, almost 400 individuals descended on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia in October to participate in Dragon Spear, a CBRN research, development, and acquisition training experiment (RDAX). Over the course of the four-day event, the JPEO-CBRND joined service members from 10 joint force units, along with interagency and industry partners and leaders from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs, to put new CBRN defense technologies to the test in realistic operational scenarios.

This was the second year for the experiment, which grew significantly since RDAX Dragon Spear was piloted in 2022. Experiments like Dragon Spear are critically important for both technology developers and end users like the special operations community. It gives the special operators a chance to “kick the tires” and provide real-time feedback on equipment that is still being developed. That feedback allows developers to adjust and improve during the early stages of development and, ultimately, deliver the best possible equipment and technologies. Additionally, RDAX allowed the JPEO-CBRND teams to train users on how they can combat new threats with new defense technology and decision support tools.

Nearly half of the 40 technologies used during RDAX Dragon Spear were from the JPEO-CBRND’s portfolio and included protective gear, sensors and wearable health monitoring technologies. These products were rigorously evaluated by service members training in several different threat scenarios and JPEO-CBRND program offices received direct insight into how their products could be refined or enhanced to better meet warfighter needs.

Three of JPEO-CBRND’s Joint Project Mangers (JPM) attended RDAX Dragon Spear to introduce and receive feedback on their gear and technology. The JPM for CBRN Special Operations Forces (JPM CBRN SOF) had the largest footprint at the event, which provided their developers with a crucial opportunity for connection and information exchange with the SOF community. Maj. Alberto Rios, who organized RDAX Dragon Spear, highlighted the significance of the interactive technology demonstrations, “Ultimately, showing is better than telling and gives us the opportunity for meaningful insights,” he said.

Detection + Individual Protection

As technology advances and devices become smaller, there are more opportunities to integrate CBRN sensors with unmanned air or ground vehicles. The team who attended from JPM CBRN Sensors collected feedback and provided training on the CBRN sensor integration on robotic platforms (CSIRP), which incorporates the compact vapor chemical agent detector (CVCAD) and the proximate chemical agent detector (PCAD).

For JPM CBRN Protection, RDAX Dragon Spear was an ideal venue to introduce and test its new CBRN protective suit and gloves, the uniform integrated protection ensemble family of systems general purpose (UIPE FOS GP). UIPE FOS GP is an Acquisition Category I program and will replace the legacy joint service lightweight integrated suit technology (JSLIST) that must be worn on top of a service member’s duty uniform.

The UIPE FOS GP suit incorporates the required CBRN protection elements into the duty uniform itself, eliminating the need to wear two sets of separate garments and significantly reducing the gear’s weight and thermal burden. Bobby Brooks, Lead Program Analyst for the UIPE FoS GP, impressed upon service members, “this suit is not only your duty uniform, but it’s also lifesaving gear you can effectively operate in.” Unencumbering the warfighter so they can be successful in CBRN contested environments is paramount for the JPEO-CBRND.

Assessing Biometrics

RDAX Dragon Spear included a focus on wearables with the potential to alert a wearer to CBRN agent exposure and early onset medical issues. The JPM CBRN SOF team evaluated multiple commercial-off-the-shelf wearable devices as part of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Wearables Pilot program. The devices included three wearable hydration monitoring systems, a biometric device (known as the Halo) worn behind the ear, and the Hexoskin, a base-layer “smart garment” used to collect vital signs without monitors that adhere to the skin.

The team was particularly interested in learning about users’ attitudes on device fit, form and function during CBRND operations, and hearing how they want to use the data collected by these devices.

The RDAX Dragon Spear experiment offered a unique environment for JPEO-CBRND developers to work directly with and get feedback from the joint force­—the men and women who will one day rely on these technologies to protect them and their battle buddies from some of the scariest threats imaginable.

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