Breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), advanced materials, nanotechnology and remote sensing will be leveraged in novel CBRNE solutions to speed up reaction time against the threats and mitigate their adverse effects.
Listed below are the key technology trends impacting the CBRNE defence theme, as identified by GlobalData.
Although nanotechnology is relatively new, there have been some breakthroughs in developing and refining new techniques to detect and mitigate the use of biological or chemical weapons. For example, the decontamination of chemicals requires large amounts of water and can produce harmful waste to both humans and the environment. In contrast, nanotechnology can be used in the decontamination process even at room temperature, eliminating the need for thermal destruction and removing potentially harmful vapours.
Detecting the dispersal pattern of a chemical attack as it occurs, or developing better sensors for decontamination efforts, may offer more opportunities to use nanotechnology to reduce the effects of CBRN use.
Nanotechnology still presents some long-term risks, such as being used to aid the spread and distribution process or to hide deadly pathogens. ‘Proto-nano-weapons’ such as dense inert metal explosives (DIMEs) are designed to make explosives less indiscriminate and more dangerous, shrinking shrapnel to such an extent that medical professionals find it extremely difficult to treat the wounded.
As the detection and identification of CBRNE threats is an expensive, meticulous, dangerous and painful endeavour for CBRNE protection forces, countries seek novel solutions including remote sensing to develop and improve their CBRNE detection and identification capabilities. Various laser absorption spectroscopy (LAS)-based remote detection techniques have been developed and fielded recently, including differential absorption LiDAR, tunable laser absorption spectroscopy, laser photoacoustic spectroscopy, dual-comb spectroscopy, laser heterodyne radiometry and active coherent laser absorption spectroscopy for chemical detection.
Unmanned vehicles equipped with remote sensors have great potential to monitor environment, detect and identify these threats rapidly and manage the consequences of CBRN attacks. For instance, in 2017, the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) initiated an Autonomous Drone Services (AUDROS) project to detect and identify CBRNE threats using satellite and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) together.
Similarly, the Australian Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group working with industries including Strategic Elements, Stealth Technologies and Planck Aero systems seek autonomous CBRN sensing and search by deploying Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) and UAV.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for CBRNE training
The potential for VR and AR training applications has long been recognised by the aerospace and defence industry. VR enable trainees to undertake virtual simulated practice to gain real-world experience cost-effectively and safely without putting them in harm’s way. A virtually constructed simulation of a dangerous scenario allows the soldiers to familiarise themselves with combat scenarios and adapt newer skills and techniques necessary for combat.
While VR creates an artificial environment where the user can live; AR is used to enhance live exercises in a real environment by overlaying computer-generated images onto the user’s real-world view.
Defence forces are benefitting from VR and AR technologies in CBRNE training solutions for their troops. For instance, Polish Armed Forces are developing a virtual training centre for Polish chemical forces. In addition, the US Department of Defence released a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) tender in April 2021, to develop software to support testing and evaluation of radiation detectors and their use in challenging life-like nuclear response scenarios without the use of radiological sources using VR and AR.
AI technology can be used in the detection of CBRNE threats and protection from them, as well as in training and simulation. Facial recognition and behaviour recognition systems helps detect abnormal behaviours at important passengers’ checkpoints such as airports, train stations and ports. In the Covid-19 context, AI is assisting in combating the virus by helping in the early detection and diagnosis of the infection to contact tracing, development of drugs and vaccines, and training of healthcare workers.
For example, the Mount Sinai Health System has partnered with Sana Labs to train nurses treating Covid-19 patients using AI-enabled assessments. According to a GlobalData survey, 43% of respondents stated that AI had played a significant role in helping the company survive the pandemic, with a further 34% saying it had played a minor role.
Conversational platforms have become more important than ever following dramatic increases in demand for support services. The pandemic has also accelerated AI research in federated learning, which allows for collaboration on models without forcing users to disclose sensitive information.
In June 2021, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program awarded $2m funding to two small businesses to develop machine learning technologies for detection of CBRNE threats. DHS aims to reduce time, redundancy, cost, and improve accuracy in detecting threats, such as explosives, chemical agents, and narcotics.
IoT describes the use of connected sensors and actuators to control and monitor the environment, the things that move within it, and the people that act within it. Use cases of IoT in defence include military intelligence, command and control systems, soldier modernisation systems, and predictive maintenance for military vehicles. This technology enables a myriad of sensors deployed in all the domains to acquire full situational awareness and control over diverse conflict zones or battle areas.
Some companies offer a designed network of threat detectors to establish secure and smart facilities and monitor areas. For instance, Bruker Detection provides CBRNet solution to detect CNBRNE agents using open source such as mobile telephony, terrestrial and satellite radios, and Bluetooth and WiFi connections. The system links CBRNE sensors, key decision makers, and advisors.
As warfare becomes increasingly networked, new wearable devices are becoming indispensable for infantry officers and soldiers to heighten their situational awareness and combat effectiveness. These systems can be linked with radio systems and battle management systems through the use of head-mounted C2 displays; smart sights; smart wrist view and Commanders Combat information displays.
These devices are smaller and lighter, and made of material technology when used as part of clothing. This reduces the weight and allows for the addition of a variety of components, such as connectors.
This is an edited extract from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Defense – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.