Army source: Thai military to buy new bomb detectors
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Army source: Thai military to buy new bomb detectors

In the aftermath of UK fraud charges being brought against the seller of the GT200, the Thai military’s use of GT200 is back in the spotlight. As noted in the previous post, Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has defended the effectiveness of the GT200. He is not the only person though. The Bangkok Post quotes the current Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol:

“The GT200 detectors can do the job and they have already been tested,” ACM Sukumpol said. “The DSI should also ask those who are using the detectors because if they don’t work I want to know who would buy them.”

The minister said the air force was the first to procure the GT200 detectors when he was the air force chief-of-staff. The detectors were tested in front of army commanders.

The detectors might not work 100 per cent of the time but the users were satisfied the procurement was made, he said.

Many bombs were found using the GT200 detectors but if the findings say otherwise we’ll have to see who’s lying,” ACM Sukumpol said.

When reporters asked him why were the detectors bought at different prices, he said there had to be a reason and the National Anti-Corruption Commission would investigate this.

“Today if we don’t use the GT200 what other detectors will we use? The Defence Ministry and I continue to look for alternative devices when travelling abroad,” he said.

BP: ACM Sukumpol is responding to an investigation by the DSI which has said that exorbitant prices were paid for the devices. If the army commanders were satisfied, doesn’t that tell you that there is a problem with the army commanders and the procurement process?

Veera in the Bangkok Post:

For the military to admit that they were duped into buying useless bomb detectors or dowsing rods would be a loss of face, something which is unimaginable and unacceptable to them.

Any individual with a modicum of common sense would never spend that much money to buy a bomb detector or a molecular detector which mainly comprises a plastic handset mounted with a swivelling antenna and some plastic cards claimed to be capable of detecting the “molecular signature” of various substances, including drugs, explosives and ammunition from distances of up to 300 metres, because it is totally insane.

If no one shows up to lodge complaints with the DSI, the controversy will eventually die down and be brushed under the carpet.

Defence Minister Sukumpol’s argument in defence of the GT200 _ that it is better to have something (the GT200) rather than nothing at all _ is ridiculous and unacceptable because it does not take into account the safety issue of the men in the field and the public.

To save lives and property, it will be more sensible to have something which is reliable and effective and not just anything like the GT200 which is just an obscenely expensive fake.

The Bangkok Post:

Army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha also confirmed soldiers were confident of the effectiveness of the equipment because it produced good results in the field, unlike the poor outcome from the experiment conducted by the previous government.

“No matter whether the result is good or bad, soldiers will still use it because soldiers are still facing risks … it is about a matter of confidence.”

According to an army source, Gen Prayuth has just approved the acquisition of four Fido XT explosives detectors worth 15 million baht and 40 Spectrex heat detectors worth 40 million baht from the United States.

The products will go to soldiers in the South who are still using GT200 detectors.

BP: Despite the problems with the previous procurement, there is some actual research on the Fido explosive detectors. For the Spectrex heat detector, it is harder to tell – The Guide for the Selection of Chemical Detection Equipment for Emergency First Responders, 3rd Edition published by the Department of Homeland Security refers to a number of Spectrex Inc. devices, but BP can only find mention of gas detectors and not heat detector (one wonders if something is lost in translation as heat detectors shouldn’t cost 40 million Baht).

On the FIDO device, below is a brief summary of what BP has found (this is not meant to be an exhaustive literature review). The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry World has an article which mentions the background of the Fido explosive detector:

Timothy Swager often finds his mind drifting back to the 7 July 2005 bombings. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) chemist was on sabbatical in London at the time. ‘There’s one thing I think about a lot. Those guys with the backpacks would have been easily detected with some chemical sensors,’ he says. …Swager is famed for creating polymer technology to sniff out explosives vapours in the field, commercialised as Fido explosives detectors. The arrays of unobtrusive sensors that he envisages may not be that far from reality. Researchers can already detect single molecules of explosives using sensing systems that have the potential to be cheap, low-power and very, very small – thanks to some clever chemistry and consumer-driven miniaturisation of electronics. Most of these vapour detection systems are designed to identify molecules of high explosives such as TNT (2,4,6-trinitrotoluene).

Good dog

The nose of a sniffer dog is still the best detection system for explosives, but technology is creeping ever closer to matching its sensitivity. The aptly-named Fido explosives detector that emerged from Swager’s lab has been through a series of incarnations. It is now sold by Flir Systems in the US, as a range of small handheld devices used widely by US troops. These detectors can spot explosives vapours at concentrations of parts per quadrillion (1 in 1015), comparable to the sensitivity of a dog’s nose.

Below are some excerpts from the book “Trace Chemical Sensing of Explosives” Edited by Ronald L. Woodfin (PDF). Page 153:

There was a widely held belief prior to this program that chemical vapor sensors could never achieve the level of sensitivity required to detect landmines in the same manner as canines. This assertion was shown to be false, as an electronic vapor sensor developed during this program (the Nomadics Fido) demonstrated for the first time detection of landmines at performance levels comparable to experienced mine detection canines during blind field trials. The motivation provided by mandatory biannual field testing, coupled with lessons learned in the field, greatly accelerated development of the sensor, driving the achievement of canine-comparable detection capability with less than 2 years of sensor development [1].

Pages 171-172 on the tests:

Nomadics personnel and dog handlers were not given any information on sample identity until analysis of samples was completed and results were submitted for scoring (i.e., the tests were conducted in a “blind” fashion). After samples were prepared, they were split into 2 separate batches, with each batch containing positive, blank, and interferent samples. The number of positive, blank, and interferent samples per batch was not revealed to the dog handlers or sensor operators. All samples were first analyzed by the canines. After the canine analysis was completed, Fido was then used to analyze the same batch of samples. Batch 1 of filters contained a total of 25 samples, 4 of which were positive.

Both Fido and the canines detected 3 of the 4 positive samples. …The results of this comparison were promising. The performance of the sensor during this series of tests was comparable to that of the canines. One outcome of these tests was the notion that the Fido sensor could possibly be used as a canine training tool. For example, when positive samples are prepared there is currently no easy way to determine if the samples are actually positive. The sample that was missed by the canines and by Fido was prepared in exactly the same manner as the three samples that were detected, yet this sample was not detected. If the sample in question were used as a positive sample during training, but were actually blank, confusion of the dog could occur, reducing the effectiveness of the training session. In addition, a properly designed electronic sensor should exhibit reproducible and quantifiable levels of performance from day to day. The performance of canines can vary for a variety of reasons, and it can be difficult to determine when a dog is not performing at its best. The sensor could possibly be used to help verify the performance of canines. This is not to say that the performance of Fido is presently adequate to replace dogs in certain roles, but it may have a role in enhancing and complimenting the performance of dogs. Dogs can be trained to detect a wide range of substances in a short period of time.

In this respect, dogs could be used to cover critical gaps in sensing applications while sensory materials for detection of other analytes of interest are developed. For sensing tasks in which Fido and dogs could both be used, the sensor could be used in a confirmatory sensing role to improve the performance of both methods.

BP: For those more interested in finding out more, go to Google Scholar for some academic references. An editorial in the Bangkok Post:

The US security insider’s magazine National Defense ran an article in 2010 which said the American military’s success rate for locating improvised explosives planted in Afghanistan and Iraq was about 50% using their standard detection devices, which we can assume did not include the GT200. But that jumped to 80% when patrols took dogs along. The article quoted Lt Gen Michael Oates, commander of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organisation, as saying, ”Dogs are the best detectors.’

BP: Indeed. All that money spent on the GT200 and similar devices could have been spent on devices which actually work and dogs…..

h/t to a reader for some points that BP has adopted above.

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