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April 22, 2002
Volume 80, Number 16
CENEAR 80 16 p. 9
ISSN 0009-2347
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Army Tests Weather Radars As Chem-Bio Agent Detectors


Army researchers last week conducted mock chemical and biological terrorism attacks off the Florida coast to determine if the U.S. can use the capabilities of long-range weather radars to detect such assaults.

The four-day, $400,000 exercise went "very well," says Mickey L. Morales, U.S. Army Soldier & Biological Chemical Command spokesman. "I can't say more than that until the data are analyzed." A full report is expected to be released in four months.

In mock tests conducted over military complexes before Sept. 11, 2001, the Army says military Doppler radars detected clouds of surrogate chemical and biological agents. Last week's tests, six to 12 miles off the Florida Keys, were designed to test whether civilian Doppler radars could detect such plumes over water.

Clay dust, egg whites, and irradiated and neutralized Bacillus subtilis spores were used as surrogates for biological agents, while ethanol and a solution of water and polyethylene glycol were the chemical simulants. All these are considered benign substances, and some were used to no ill effect in the earlier tests over the military complexes.

The substances were released from an EPA crop duster flying 400 to 900 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. Three civilian Doppler radars from the National Weather Service and the Federal Aviation Administration, along with the Army's Doppler radar, were tested as potential detectors, Morales says.

If civilian weather forecasting radars are also able to detect chemical and biological threat agents, a new national warning system could easily be put in place in less than two years, says Vince Johnston, deputy product manager for the Army's Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Point Detection Systems.

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