Highest-Tech War

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Navy photo / CMCS Michael Ard

Weapon Intelligence Team members in Afghanistan training to investigate IED blasts, complete with simulated blood. They also use sophisticated gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers to try to trace explosives to their source.

The U.S. Army is shipping some high-tech stuff off to Afghanistan, apparently for the war effort, even as troops have begun coming home. They won’t say a word about it, but are talking about the custom-built shipping cases they need to get an Agilent 7890 Gas Chromatograph attached to an Agilent 5975 Mass Spectrometer to the war zone.

“This case is necessary,” the Army says, “to ensure the protection of very sensitive/expensive equipment being shipped to Afghanistan.” (Here’s a used set going for $67,000.)

Here’s what the Army needs:

Shipping case should be built that can house, protect and adequately contain, during shipment, an Agilent 7890 Gas Chromatograph (GC) attached to an Agilent 5975 Mass Spectrometer (MS). The case must be able to transport the associated oil-less pump. Specifications on the case must be able to contain a system that is 105 cm wide by 50 cm tall by 54 cm deep with a connected roughing pump (vacuum pump) connected to the MS via a flexible vacuum line. The roughing pump dimensions are 10.5” deep x 13.5” wide x 7.5” tall. The pump should be contained in a separate padded compartment within the GC/MS shipping case designed such that the pump can remain connected to the MS when stowed in the shipping case. The case must be able to contain a system that weighs in excess of 100 kg. The case must contain a custom made metal plate to allow the system to bolt to it for secured transport and then future use at the laboratory site. This plate will ensure the system stays installed together and has only minimal setup time once onsite. The metal plate is to be bolted to the bottom of the instrument case allowing the GC and MS instruments to remain connected and need no installation once on site. This base plate should be designed such that no modification to the GS/MS is required for attachment. Attachment should be made via the threaded bolt holes on the instrument that the existing leveling feet are installed in. The plate, with the instrument bolted to the top can be placed on the bench requiring minimal preparation for use. Once bolted to the plate and secured in the case, the instrument and its components will not shift. The base of this shipping case which contains the plate the instruments are bolted to should be designed such that the cover portion of the shipping case can be used as a stand for the instrument if a table, bench, or countertop is not available.

Checking in with the contracting officer didn’t answer certain questions, like why is this stuff being shipped to Afghanistan. “I cannot release that information,” she says.

But Battleland buddies say it has something to do with detective work – it’s being delivered to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Lab. The lab, according to the Army, is “the only full service forensic laboratory in the DoD and trains special agents and investigators from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines in the Special Agent Laboratory Training Course and manages the USACIDC criminalistics and visual information programs…USACIL is on the forefront of battlefield forensics and has a robust Science and Technology Program collaborating with other laboratories and researchers, customers, law enforcement, academia and industry to develop state of the art protocols in scientific investigation.”

Battlefield forensics? It’s a term that’s increasingly common, and it refers to detective work used to try to trace explosives used in IEDs to their source – to “fingerprint” them, in other words.

If that’s what this high-tech police gear – and its shipping case – is for, not exactly sure why it’s needed. The Government Accountability Office reported in July that 80% of the IEDs in Afghanistan use fertilizer smuggled into the country from Pakistan.