Dr. Terrence G. D’Onofrio, a U.S. Army research chemist, works with the Porton Man, which enables system-level research and testing of chemical-protective ensembles.

U.S. Army, UK partner for chemical-protection research

Scientists investigating the effects of chemical warfare agent exposure face numerous limitations and hazards. Through the U.S. Army Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program, American and British researchers are combining their knowledge to push through those barriers and increase innovation in the area.

At the United Kingdom’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, known as Dstl, chemical-protection experts can enter a laboratory to get a first-hand look at a contaminated mannequin dressed in full protective gear.

Dr. Terrence G. D’Onofrio, a U.S. Army research chemist, is testing military fabrics and materials at the Dstl as an ESEP participant. He arrived in October 2015 for his exchange assignment and will depart in December 2016.

“Dstl is the only place in the world where they can dress the mannequin with an ensemble — including suit, respirator, boots, gloves, body armor — and have it exposed to the actual agent to find out how well the it performs as a whole,” said D’Onofrio, who works at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. “The ability to gain hands-on knowledge and work with this unique capability is one of the reasons I came here on assignment.”

The system, known as Porton Man, enables system-level research and testing of chemical-protective ensembles. Instead of the typical research method of testing full suits with simulants, Dstl’s facility and capabilities allow scientists to use real chemical agents.

Combining each country’s expertise will significantly enhance scientific understanding, he said.

“How can we expand and leverage these unique capabilities to the benefit of the nations? What ways can we streamline communications? For technical questions, who has the individual pieces of the puzzle that can fill these gaps and needs?” D’Onofrio said. “How can we get all this data to work together to answer the questions that are needed to say, ‘Is this suit going to protect our forces and let them complete their mission?’ “

The second reason for D’Onofrio’s British assignment is to implement the U.S. low-volatility agent permeation method at Dstl as an international standard. He invented a method for testing fabrics and materials and received a patent in 2015. It is now an official test method for the U.S. government.

D’Onofrio explained that most chemical testing on fabrics was performed by contaminating the top layer and putting a sniffer underneath to collect the vapors as they broke through. However, this method does not work for low-volatility chemicals such as the nerve agent VX because it is a contact hazard.

“The new method helps make warfighters and lab workers safer. By making it an international standard, larger number of organizations, including first responders, could leverage the information and cross-compare results,” he said.

The U.S.-British collaboration has garnered interest as chemical protection is a prominent area of military research. Dr. C. David Brown, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Developmental Test and Evaluation, and Col. Ronald Fizer, principal director for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program for the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, toured Dstl facilities in September 2016.

“The benefit of ESEP is to leverage and learn through total immersion into another country’s process and unique capabilities to benefit U.S. programs. We expand the network and data exchange,” D’Onofrio said.

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Mid-career level Army engineers and scientists in Career Program 16 can apply for an ESEP assignment. Applicants may arrange for a position from one of 16 countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, Singapore and Chile.

Participants should be in General Schedule pay grades 12 through 14 (or acquisition demo equivalent) at the time of deployment, hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and have at least four years of technical experience in industry or military/government.

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The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

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