NBC Weapons: August 11, 2004


The U.S. Air Force is the latest organization to get stung by one of the uglier secrets of the chemical defense business. That is, chemical detectors dont work very well, and often dont work at all. The concept of a portable instrument, that could detect the presence of chemical weapons, and that was rugged enough so that combat troops could take into a combat zone, works in theory. It even works in the laboratory. It doesnt work that well in practice. In early 2003, the air force bought a hundred handheld ChemSentry detectors, at $10,000 each, for use by air force troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Subsequent tests revealed that the ChemSentry gave a high number of false positives and often misidentified the chemical agent it had detected, or thought it had detected. The manufacturer, BAE, has been trying to perfect a military version of the ChemSentry for seven years now. The ones the air force bought were civilian models. 

The problem with chemical detectors is that, to work, they must detect chemical weapons before the concentration is high enough to kill or incapacitate people. In most cases, troops will encounter clouds of chemical weapons, or the stuff will be on the ground and vegetation, and small concentrations will be encountered first. This is what chemical detectors are supposed to detect. The problem is, making a rugged, reliable, and especially portable (hand held) chemical detector has, so far, proven, well, impossible. The ChemSentry is just another failure in a long line of attempts.

Current efforts, and there are several, to create a workable ChemSentry type device began after the 1991 Gulf War, when it was discovered that even the bulkier, vehicle mounted, detectors, didnt do so well. But 13 years later, everyone is still trying. And will continue to keep trying.


Article Archive

NBC Weapons: Current 2019 2018 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close