ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 20, 2014) – A small, easy-to-use and lightweight explosive screening kit continues to move forward toward full fielding as a means to provide Soldiers with the capability to screen for suspected homemade explosive materials.
Using proven colorimetric chemistry, the handheld Colorimetric Reconnaissance Explosive Squad Screening, known as a CRESS kit, uses chemical reagents stored inside a specially designed four-compartment plastic container. The reagents produce color changes when they come in contact with four specific homemade explosive precursor chemicals. These precursors consist of two fuels and two oxidizers that could indicate the presence of explosives. The kit needs no power source and produces test results in less than two minutes.
The CRESS kit transitioned from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, known as ECBC, to Joint Project Manager Guardian as a program of record on Oct. 1, 2013. The military can now facilitate low-cost commercial production.
“The CRESS kit is a perfect example of how ECBC can use its expertise in chemistry and engineering to rapidly develop a solution for the Soldier,” said Dr. Way Fountain, ECBC senior research scientist for chemistry. “Leveraging the center’s expertise in 3D printing and rapid prototyping allowed us to quickly innovate to a unique design for the handheld kit.”
Initial Soldier testing of the CRESS kit occurred in June 2011, at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The assessment showed that Soldiers with minimal training can successfully screen for homemade explosive and non-homemade explosive samples with a high degree of accuracy and confidence.
After some minor modifications, the kit underwent a second test, in February 2012. ECBC’s Advanced Design and Manufacturing branch produced 500 kits for the test, in order to focus on the tactile manipulation and to receive Soldier feedback.
“There were some small changes we put into place for the kit following the second Soldier test,” said Tim Lyons, grenade team chief from the Obscuration and Non-Lethal Engineering Branch. “We also developed a training kit that now comes with each box of kits. The training kit allows Soldiers to be taught how to use the CRESS using [homemade explosive] simulant materials that produce the correct color codes used to identify the presence of [homemade explosive] precursors.”
The second assessment helped ECBC researchers identify manufacturing changes to make it easier to produce the kit, and also identified that additional evaluation was needed before the CRESS can be fully transitioned to the field.
Another 500 of the CRESS kits were sent to Afghanistan for testing with RDECOM’s Field Assistance in Science and Technology Center.
“We conducted a Soldier ensemble compatibility analysis, or simply, how to put it into a Soldier’s pocket,” Lyons said. “We had planned tests to see how changes in the environment could affect the operation of the CRESS, such as the effects of contaminants, hot and cold temperatures, high humidity, or rain and snow.”
In addition, CRESS kit researchers are looking at developing additional reagent chemistries to identify narcotics, and other homemade explosive precursor chemicals that are used worldwide, along with classic high explosive compounds, such TNT.
The third and final assessment, in April 2013, focused on training and a training simulator.
“We are developing an Android application that will allow the Soldier to digitize data reporting,” Lyons said. “And, we are looking at designing a tear strip to make the internal bag of the kit easier to open.”
In August, ECBC received a safety confirmation for the CRESS kit, and this allows for unrestricted use by the U.S. forces in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and in October the kit rolls over to JPM Guardian, where it will enter the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the acquisition cycle. This is the final step prior to production and deployment, which is expected to occur in the summer of 2015.
The development of the kit has also earned ECBC an Army nomination for the 2012 Invention of Year.