Joint team seeks to improve CBRN protection for aircrew

The Air Force Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Systems Branch – part of the Agile Combat Support Directorate – are leading a Department of Defense effort to define and develop better CBRN protection for aircrew.

The branch is working closely with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing and the Joint Program Executive Office for CBRN Defense in directing tests and analyzing test data from various U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft in the search for protective solutions.

Currently CBRN protective ensembles available to Joint Force Aircrew consist of a mixture of legacy and contemporary systems.

A new effort, known as the Next-Generation Aircrew Protection Ensemble, is conducting airborne testing and research to better characterize the chemical agent challenge that aircrew might face and improve on the protective gear currently available to them to better protect them against current and future threats.

The tests, which are being executed by the 711th Human Performance Wing, involve challenging an aircraft with a chemical agent vapor simulant, determining how effectively that type of aircraft can purge the simulant - both in quantity and rate of reduction - and quantifying the amount of residual simulant, if any.

The procedure simulates an aircraft being exposed to a chemical agent on the ground, and during taking off, and then entering clean air space at altitude, free of chemical agent. Clean air is then cycled through the aircraft as chemical agent is removed.

So far, an F-22, F-16, F-15C/E and A-10 have been evaluated in ground trials, relying on the aircraft’s environmental control system to intake clean air and purge the chemical agent simulant. The C-130J has been evaluated in a flight test, relying on not only the aircraft’s ECS but also several normal and emergency procedures/checklists to purge the simulant.

Additional Air Force platforms and a number of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft are expected to be tested as well.

At this point the team does not know what the next-generation CBRN protection solution will look like. However, they hinted that it could be a material solution, similar to the protective gear currently worn by aircrew members, or a non-material solution such as a filtration system on an aircraft.

“We are in the applied research phase,” said 1st Lt. Hunter Mangueira, lead engineer with the joint team and member of the Agile Combat Support Directorate, Human Systems Division’s CBRN Defense Branch. “Once we have a sufficient amount of data on the aircraft, we will be able to write requirements and then shift to the next phase which is analysis of alternatives, where we look at different solutions that may already exist or something that can be developed for the future.”

“Testing results are giving us invaluable insights into low level exposure risks and providing the NGAPE team a clearer understanding of the threat environments that influence technology requirements,” said Bill Greer, senior CBRN analyst in the 711th Human Performance Wing. “At the end of the day, we hope what we learn allows future aircrews to operate more effectively and stay safe should they need to operate in a chemical vapor environment.”

Part of the NGAPE effort is to provide aircrew with options when facing CBRN threats.

“As an aviator, NGAPE will provide me with a scalable spectrum of material and non-material solutions, along with their associated contingency procedures, where I can look at what’s being employed against me and then apply a scalable solution that balances the risk to my forces,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Carter, Air Force/A10SJ, Chief of Joint Capabilities and Integration Branch, a B-1B pilot and advisor on the joint team.

“The scalable solution could be a mask or it could be a whole body ensemble,” said Carter. “It could be nothing. After operationalizing NGAPE’s vapor purge testing data, I will know the risks associated with it [threats] and I can then make a decision based on what I need to do to get the mission accomplished; balancing both the safety of the aircrew and the safety of the aircraft, while ensuring that my risk level does not exceed the acceptable level of risk identified by the my commander. Overall, what this does is give the warfighter and leadership in the tactical environment flexibility to adapt quicker than the enemy’s chemical and/or biological effects.”

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