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News | July 6, 2021

DTRA Prepares for Emerging Threats at CBOA 21

By Story by Darnell Gardner Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Uniformed personnel representing the U.S. Joint Forces, participated in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA), 2021 Chemical and Biological Operational Analysis (CBOA) at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek – Fort Story, Va., from 24-28 May 2021.

The annual CBOA exercise equips end-users with the most up-to-date defense prototypes to assess in a simulated chemical and biological threat environment. This event provides technology developers with the opportunity to observe how their prototypes perform when used by front-line warfighters in a variety of threat-based scenarios. The feedback provided will guide product development and inform investment strategies that directly address warfighter requirements.

“One of our mantras at DTRA is ‘user feedback -early and often’,” explained Dr. Ron Hann, acting director for DTRA’s research and development efforts. “By bringing industry, academia and other DoD elements to the warfighter, we are able to spur innovation and experimentation to deliver next generation capabilities. We also have representatives from DoD’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense in attendance to view horizon-technology and strategize on potential future acquisition prospects.”

The CBOA support staff, uniformed operators, and technology developers delivered realistic threat-scenarios such as Fixed Site Operations, Thorough Decon Support Operations and Domestic CBRN Prevention and Response. These sceneries enabled warfighters to demonstrate innovative technologies that detect, deter, and defeat chemical and biological threats.

“The CBOA event is a scenario-driven, experiment that provides a unique opportunity for our technology developers to engage directly with the warfighter in a field environment,” said Markham Smith, program manager for the CBOA program. “This year also brought unique planning and execution challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We did not receive the green light to proceed until we developed an approved COVID mitigation and response plan that implemented measures to ensure for a safe working environment.”

Over the years, the success of CBOA has attracted a growing followership of industry innovators, academia and various U.S. Government (USG) agencies, to include DoD enterprise partners. Although attendance was limited in order to comply with the CBOA COVID Mitigation and Response Plan, the event still drew the largest contingent to date, totaling more than 450 attendees, including 109 uniformed personnel, and featuring approximately 58 technology prototypes and concepts.

Smith further explained that during CBOA, end-users provide immediate feedback to gauge product form, fit and function, from both operator and adversary perspectives to identify potential improvements and uncover shortfalls. This process enables real-time technology improvement that will lead to more accurate course corrections, and in best-case scenarios, confirm technology capabilities.

“CBOA provides an opportunity for developers to challenge the limits of their technology and receive candid feedback focused on applicability, utility, recommended improvements in a collaborative, non-attributional, learning environment. Failure doesn’t exist. Opportunities are identified to improve the effectiveness and utility of CB centric technologies” Smith added.

This year’s CBOA included the use of Military Working Dogs (MWDs) as part of the live scenarios. MWDs have always been a valuable asset to the Joint Forces. However, personal protective equipment for these canines has not evolved in unison with chemical and biological threats.

“For the first time, we included canines and medical response elements to the CBOA joint battlefield this year,” stated Lt. Col. Barbara Cloutier, DTRA Warfighter Medical Integrator and onsite Lead Veterinarian. “Prior to the MWD inclusion, my team developed an animal-use protocol to ensure the safety and comfort of the canines during fixed site operations. Our handlers ran canines through simulated contaminated areas, which required specialized decontamination technologies. We successfully tested six technologies for canine decontamination.”

Cloutier further elaborated that in keeping up with emerging threats that can negatively affect MWDs, venders and technology developers brought horizon-technology to CBOA for evaluation. Concepts such as the newly developed canine respirator may receive consideration for future analysis.

An added feature to CBOA was the User Feedback Tent for Technology Concepts (Concept Tent), which featured USG-sponsored technologies and concepts that do not yet have prototypes to assess in the live scenarios. The Concept Tent provided a venue for technology developers to leverage the experience and knowledge of CBOA operators to identify potential areas for improvement or employment.

According to Smith, the Concept Tent provides an early “sanity check” that helps optimize the effectiveness and utility of emerging technologies by informing investment and technology development strategies early in the development cycle.

There were 21 government sponsored CBRN concepts/emerging technologies participating in CBOA 21. Partners representing U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), Dr. Rick Cox, Research and Technology Director for DEVCOM’s Chemical and Biological Center and Ms. Fiona Narayanan, branch chief for NCB Battlefield Integration within the Research and Technology Directorate were present to discuss the development and interoperability of horizon-technology.

“We are here to support CBOA prototypes that rate within technology readiness levels (TRL) four to six,” explained Narayanan. “These TRL products are not mature enough for battlefield testing, but will give the warfighter an idea of what’s on the horizon. Our goal is to ensure these upcoming products are able to integrate with current command and control communication systems.”

As earlier explained by Hann, end-user feedback “early and often” is vital to successful technology development. Chief Master Sgt. Brian Hundstrum from the 209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron provided insight on what he and his unit expected to learn from CBOA 21.

“Our expectations here are to see new technology and determine how we can integrate with our tactics, techniques and procedures so that we can be better warfighters and partners within the Total Joint Force,” said Hundstrum.

Naval researcher Matt O’Neal’s submission to this year’s CBOA was the Senses CBR Agents Pre-Engagement and Goes Over All Terrain (SCAPEGOAT), a chemical, biological, or radiological sensor. O’Neal expressed eagerness to highlight SCAPEGOAT’s capabilities; however, was more excited about the direct warfighter engagement.

“It's the positive impact of networking…we've gotten very useful feedback from the warfighters on actually using the SCAPEGOAT,” said O’Neal. “On that note, I was most excited about other warfighters seeing our product and expressing interest in its capabilities. We have had some productive sidebars with some of the Marines and are planning more collaboration after the event. While our tech is still in the early stages, seeing interest in its development is encouraging to the team. We owe that to having the opportunity from being here!”

Sergeant Samuel Mingo from 8th Army, Fort Campbell Kn., said that his expectations were met and in most cases exceeded with the scenarios at CBOA 21. He explained that his team was able to test out the most up-to-date reconnaissance and decontamination technology and then give instantaneous feedback to CBOA integrators and vendors.

“We are providing key feedback to developers so that when the products are ready for combat, we are assured we are getting the best equipment,” said Mingo. “Our voices are being heard.”

Based on after-action feedback from participants, CBOA 21 met, and in most cases exceeded expectations in achieving exercise objectives. For some of the technology developers, this was their first experience with engaging directly with warfighters. With future CBOA iterations, DTRA will continue to look across the technology horizon for the latest opportunities to defend against emerging threats.

“CBOA strengthens our ability to develop and deliver rapid capabilities for the Joint Force warfighter,” stated Hann.

For additional information on DTRA please visit To learn more about CBOA, please contact Markham Smith at

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