ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. –
The mobile laboratory used for detecting and identifying chemical and biological hazards has now been delivered to all National Guard Bureau’s Weapons of Mass Destruction - Civil Support Teams (CST) in all 50 U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Named the Analytical Laboratory System - Modification Work Order, or ALS MWO, this 15-ton “lab on wheels” was celebrated at a ceremony on January 26 at Aberdeen Proving Ground - Edgewood, Md for achieving full operational capacity, which signifies the completion of its fielding.
“Now every CST in the U.S. has a brand new ALS MWO,” said John McFassel, the joint product manager for chemical detectors and mobile analytics within the Defense Department’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense. “This has given the CSTs more working room on the inside and improved chemical and biological detection and processing.”
When DOD certified the initial 10 CSTs in 2001, limited analytical support was conducted in a tent. The ALS program began in 2003 in response to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, with the first version being roughly the size of an ambulance. The new shelter contains an expanding slide-out to increase the workspace inside the lab. The analytical equipment in the lab has been modernized and provides increased, faster detection capabilities to allow for more samples to be processed. Fielding the new ALS began in June 2019 and concluded in January 2023. Pine Bluff Arsenal assembled 63 of the ALS, with production beginning in May 2018 and finishing in December 2022.
The laboratory can confirm the presence of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) substances. Newer, improved chemical and biological detectors were included in this latest version of the ALS. The glove box also increased in size from a two-glove, single chamber unit to a seven-glove, triple chamber unit with engineering controls, allowing for multiple samples to be processed simultaneously. Three computer workstations are used to access and control the analytical instruments, enabling the operators to test different types of samples concurrently. The system also contains an integrated communications suite used in conjunction with its sister vehicle, the unified command suite.
“We cannot express enough the appreciation that we have for all the hard work that went into this for so many years. There is no doubt about the operational benefit to the states and the nation,” said Jonathan Ebbert, the division chief of the National Guard Bureau’s countering weapons of mass destruction division. “It is spectacular. We have room to operate so that we don’t have cross contamination with two different glove boxes, one for bio and one for chem. The skills of our ALS-MWO operators and capabilities of the system will be tested and I have full confidence that we now have the resources at hand to meet the challenge and help save lives.”
The mission of the CSTs is to support civil authorities at a domestic CBRNE incident site by identifying CBRNE agents or substances, assessing current or projected consequences, advising on response measures, and assisting with appropriate requests for additional follow-on state and federal military forces. CST units can also provide immediate response for intentional and unintentional CBRN or hazardous material (HAZMAT) releases and natural or manmade disasters that result in, or could result in, catastrophic loss of life or property.
The ALS is present at most major events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four basketball games. It was also used on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. In March 2020, a new ALS was deployed by the 24th WMD-CST in New York City to serve as a COVID testing laboratory in front of the Jacob Javits Convention Center which, at the time, served as a temporary emergency hospital.