March 31, 2006 As much as it might sound like it comes from a satellite television company, the Fox (aka Fuchs in German) NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) reconnaissance vehicle is a very serious machine with an increasingly important role. A decade after the end of the Cold War, nuclear, biological and chemical warfare agents remain a serious, perhaps even growing threat in particular reference to biological and chemical agents due to their relatively easy production compared to nuclear agents. Terrorism is another growing threat to populations, forces and territory, as well as to international security. Therefore the ability to reliably and quickly detect the covert release of NBC warfare agents and other toxic substances even under difficult conditions is becoming increasingly important. As such, the announcement that the United Arab Emirates is purchasing 32 Fox NBC vehicles (only 260 exist today) gives us an opportunity to outline the capabilities of these remarkable systems.
The NBC-RS Fuchs/Fox is built by Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH (Kiel, Germany) with more than 260 of these systems in service throughout the world having more than 80% share of the armoured, wheeled NBC reconnaissance systems deployed world-wide.
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The Fuchs NBC reconnaissance system is an armoured, 6x6 vehicle capable of rapidly detecting nuclear and chemical warfare agents in the air and on the ground. Thanks to its outstanding all terrain mobility and amphibious capabilities, the vehicle can be used to detect and measure warfare agents even under extremely difficult conditions. The crew can perform all of its tasks inside the vehicle and is reliably protected against NBC warfare agents by a protective ventilation system. The extensive automation of measurement processes assists the crew in performing its tasks even under stress.
The capabilities of the system are based on the intelligent combination of measuring instruments designed to detect different hazardous substances. The integration of these instruments in a suitable carrier vehicle provides a very powerful NBC reconnaissance system – the well known NBC-RS Fuchs – which is successfully deployed not only by the German Bundeswehr but also by the armed forces of the USA, Great Britain and Saudi Arabia.
In detail, the Fuchs NBC reconnaissance system is equipped with a nuclear detector device capable of sensing high dose rates of gamma radiation with the aid of two external probe heads mounted on the vehicle exterior. A further detector is provided for the exact measurement of low gamma dose rates down to the level of natural background radiation. A third detector for measurement of alpha and beta radiation was e.g. used to search for traces of depleted uranium during the most recent missions abroad. Each crew member wears a personal alarm dosimeter to register the amount of radiation absorbed.
Permanent monitoring of ambient air is performed in order to detect volatile chemical agents. By contrast, persistent chemical warfare agents adhering to the ground are detected by a double-wheel sampling system. Two silicone coated wheels collect the persistent agent when the vehicle is moving and are alternately pressed against a heated probe head. The evaporating agent is then transferred to the actual measuring instrument, a mass spectrometer. To improve detection sensitivity even further, specimen material can be enriched in collecting tubes. The entire analysis process is controlled with the aid of a central on-board computer. A comprehensive software package permits the identification of a broad range of warfare agents and other hazardous substances.
Meteorological data like wind direction and speed, air and ground temperature, air pressure and humidity can likewise be measured. A vehicle navigation system and a GPS receiver continuously supply exact position data. Reference samples can also be taken for later analysis in the NBC field laboratory, see below. The whole process of agent identification is assisted by a central data processing unit. All of the measuring data collected are automatically converted into standardised NBC messages.
Although referred to as an NBC reconnaissance system, the Fuchs is not capable of detecting biological warfare agents. The vast number of biological agents belonging to three different classes (bacteria, virus, toxins) require various methods of identification involving laboratory analysis by well trained soldiers using specialised equipment. This is done in a system designed specifically for this purpose, the Fuchs biological reconnaissance system.
The Fuchs biological reconnaissance system permanently monitors the external air to detect any rise in particle concentration in a size range which is significant for biological warfare agents, and also detects characteristic biological molecules in the vehicle surroundings. As soon as irregularities are determined, samples are taken from the environmental air and passed to the vehicle interior for analysis. The identification process is carried out on the basis of genetic and immunological methods inside a hermetically sealed analysis chamber
Bruker Daltonics NBC detectors will be fitted to the vehicles under the latest UAE contract and a press release from Bruker makes interesting reading as it details the fittings of the vehicles:
- integrated RAID-S filter monitoring systems and hand-held RAID-M detectors for chemical warfare agent detection based on ion mobility spectrometry (IMS);
the SVG2 integrated radiation detection system, as well as hand-held SVG2 detectors;
16 Fox vehicles will be equipped with the RAPID chemical warfare agent stand-off detector based on Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) technology, which has been developed in collaboration with affiliate Bruker Optics Inc.;
16 Fox vehicles will be equipped with the Mobile Mass Spectrometer MM2(TM); the MM2 is the successor to the well established MM1 which has been the standard in mobile chemical reconnaissance for the last two decades;