Delivering lifesaving capabilities into the hands of warfighters who need them is a mission that the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) doesn’t take lightly. 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.
Figure 1 – Pictured left to right, CWO4 Jerrett Davis, USSOCOM countering weapons of mass destruction (CWMD), Sean Hankard, USSOCOM CWMD director, Dr. Joel Rynes, deputy assistant secretary to DHS office of the assistant secretary for preparedness & response, Craig Campbell, assistant to deputy assistant secretary of defense (DASD) threat reduction and arms control, Amanda Richardson, acting director defense threat reduction agency (DTRA) research & development, Ian Watson, DASD for chemical and biological defense, Mary Ellen Callahan, assistant secretary DHS CWMD, Darryl Colvin, joint program executive officer for CBRND, Dr. Robert Kristovich, director DTRA joint science and technology office (JSTO), Dr. Patricia McDaniel, US Army combat capabilities development command chemical biological center (DEVCOM CBC) senior research scientist, Kalpesh Patel, DHS CWMD, Maj. Alberto Rios, USSOCOM J10 CWMD.
The training scenarios used during RDAX Dragon Spear were designed to be realistic – simulating not only the environment, but also the operational challenges that teams face in a CBRN-contested space. This type of training allows SOF, explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) and CBRN units to try new approaches to solving problems and mitigating threats with new tools and technologies.
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.
Figure 2 - An industry member demonstrates virtual reality training and simulation capabilities, like the Enhanced Warfighter Augmented Training (EWAT), for training and command and control augmented reality at RDAX Dragon Spear 2023. US CBRN defense leaders and industry took advantage of the opportunity to connect and review technologies and capabilities for CWMD missions during the Distinguished Visitor and Community of Interest days during RDAX Dragon Spear 2023.
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.
Figure 3 – Five USSOCOM military technical evaluators stand in various CBRND protective gear. Their protective suits, breathing protection, detection equipment, and the Optimized CBRN Hydration System (OCHS) in the foreground and are being developed to keep them safe in future complex threat environments.
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).
Figure 4 – RDAX Dragon Spear participants tested the JPEO-CBRND's CSIRP, which can be used for unmanned threat detection and identification, protecting the joint force from CBRN threats.
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.
Figure 5 – The warfighter on the left wears the currently fielded joint service lightweight integrated suit while the two warfighters on the right wear the new UIPE FOS GP suit.
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.
Figure 6 – RDAX participants train in a simulated CBRN scenario, the warfighter in the front wears the new UIPE FOS GP suit and M53 mask with a single air filter specially designed for the SOF, EOD and CBRN operator community.
As the Defense Department looks to harness the power of wearable technology to inform medics, squad leaders, and command decision makers about the health and wellness of their troops, 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.
Figure 7 – Left, Darryl Colvin, JPEO-CBRND, models the UIPE FOS Glove with Ian Watson, DASD for chemical and biological defense, during distinguished visitor day events at RDAX Dragon Spear.
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. Ultimately, RDAX Dragon Spear reinforced the JPEO-CBRND's role as the Department’s lead for advanced development and rapid delivery of critical CBRN capabilities to the warfighter.