Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) have become the weapon of choice for insurgents in Iraq. At the same time, these devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated and effective. VBIEDs can be difficult to detect during visual inspection of vehicles. This is especially true when explosives have been hidden behind a vehicle’s panels, inside seat cushions, under floorboards, or behind cargo. Even though the explosive may not be visible, vapors of explosive emanating from the device are often present in the vehicle, but the current generation of trace detection equipment has not been sensitive enough to detect these low concentrations of vapor.
This paper presents initial test results using the Nomadics Fido sensor for detection of VBIEDs. The sensor is a small, explosives detector with unprecedented levels of sensitivity for detection of nitroaromatic explosives. Fido utilizes fluorescence quenching of novel polymer materials to detect traces of explosive vapor emanating from targets containing explosives. These materials, developed by collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), amplify the quenching response that occurs when molecules of explosive bind to films of the polymer. These materials have enabled development of sensors with performance approaching that of canines trained to detect explosives.
The ability of the sensor to detect explosives in vehicles and on persons who have recently been in close proximity to explosives has recently been demonstrated. In these tests, simulated targets were quickly and easily detected using a Fido sensor in conjunction with both direct vapor and swipe sampling methods. The results of these tests suggest that chemical vapor sensing has utility as a means of screening vehicles for explosives at checkpoints and on patrols.
The dog's nose is an effective, highly-mobile sampling system, while the canine olfactory organs are an extremely sensitive detector. Having been trained to detect a wide variety of substances with exceptional results, canines are widely regarded as the 'gold standard' in chemical vapor detection. Historically, attempts to mimic the ability of dogs to detect vapors of explosives using electronic 'dogs noses' has proven difficult. However, recent advances in technology have resulted in development of detection (i.e., sampling and sensor) systems with performance that is rapidly approaching that of trained canines. The Nomadics Fido was the first sensor to demonstrate under field conditions the detection of landmines with performance approaching that of canines. More recently, comparative testing of Fido against canines has revealed that electronic vapor detection, when coupled with effective sampling methods, can produce results comparable to that of highly-trained canines.
The results of these comparative tests will be presented, as will recent test results in which explosives hidden in cargo were detected using Fido with a high-volume sampling technique. Finally, the use of canines along with electronic sensors will be discussed as a means of improving the performance and expanding the capabilities of both methods.