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Interagency group looking for a few good innovations.

The interagency organization that fosters counterterrorism technologies and puts them into the hands of military or civilian users has seen a steady increase in funding.

"How much money is there? That's always tough to answer," said Jeff David, deputy director of the Technical Support Working Group. The amount budgeted to fund research and development contracts in 2007-2008 is $40 million to $60 million, with a potential to reach $80 million to $100 million. "Every year, it goes up," David added.

For companies large and small hoping to win a contract the challenges can be daunting.

"We're giving you the hardest problems we have," said Larry, Tierney, program manager for the explosive ordnance disposal/low intensity conflict subgroup. "They're not designed to be glamorous."

The working group releases its requirement documents in March, and potential contractors have until June to write white papers. If accepted, they have until October to submit their full proposal.

"Literally, the guy working in the garage has received a contract from us," David said.

The proliferation of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan--along with fears that terrorists will again employ similar tactics in the United States--were reoccurring themes this year.

How to detect explosives, how to dismantle them, how to lessen damage caused by them, and how to assist forensic teams in figuring out who used them are all acute needs, according to program managers.

The safety of bomb disposal personnel is high on the list. TSWG is soliciting proposals for technologies that make their job easier and lessen their exposure to detonations.

The technological hurdles can be challenging. For example, TSWG's improvised device defeat subgroup has been searching for a multi-purpose collapsible cart, which would allow bomb disposal personnel, or a robot, to haul up to 600 pounds of equipment to an incident sight.

It requested proposals for such a system last year, but didn't find one worthy of funding.

The cart must be adjustable in height, able to double as a gurney in case of injury and be made of material that will not cause further fragmentation damage in the event of an explosion. On top of these requirements, it must be collapsible so it can be easily stored in a bomb disposal unit vehicle.

And don't forget "affordable." As is the case for many items on the TSWG wish list, the cart is intended for both military and domestic use. States and municipalities don't have big budgets, program managers reminded participants at a recent industry conference.

An even taller order is a request for a non-explosive IED defeat tool. The requirements call for a device that can disable electronic circuitry and components, or drain electrical power within bombs. It must be scalable, so it can handle everything from small package bombs to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. It should also allow integration into robotic platforms used by military and civilian bomb squads.

"I'm not looking for high-end directed energy [solutions] here," said Mark Asselin, program director for the improvised device defeat subgroup.

While a non-explosive defeat tool would both mitigate collateral damage and improve safety for bomb disposal personnel, it would also allow investigators to take IEDs back to labs to collect forensic evidence, Asselin said.

TSWG is looking for other technologies that will give investigators crucial information on how bombs are constructed and who made them.

Self-developing x-ray film and a next-generation x-ray generator would permit bomb disposal units in the field to improve their ability to peer inside suspicious packages.

An enhanced remote wire cutter is envisioned to help bomb disposal technicians slice various sized wires from remote locations. It should also be adaptable to current robotic systems.

Other technologies on the TSWG wish list include:

* Mobile screening system for mail and parcels. The explosive detection subgroup is searching for a system to detect chemical, biological, radiological and explosive threats in letters or packages being sent to major events such as the Olympics or national political conventions. The system should fit in the back of a large trailer.

* Wireless surveillance earpiece. The VIP protection subgroup wants to make the pigtail wires coming out of Secret Service agents' ears a thing of the past. It must include volume control, 50 hours of power with a replaceable battery and be designed for use with custom molded earpieces.

* Vehicle retrofit for mass casualty evacuation. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pointed to the need to convert school buses and passenger train cars quickly into temporary mobile evacuation units, according to Gabe Ramos, program director for the chemical biological, radiological and nuclear countermeasures subgroup. The system must provide stretchers, basic life support equipment, a mix of seats and litters, and provisions for medical personnel. It should be safe, easily installed and removed, and economical. "We can't have a kit that's going to cost more than the vehicle itself," Ramos said.
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Title Annotation:Technical Support Working Group
Author:Magnuson, Stew
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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