The US Army Nuclear and Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Agency conducted a series of tests at the Survivability, Vulnerability Assessment Directorate’s fast burst reactor facility, bombarding an M1135 Stryker Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBC RV) with varying levels of ionizing radiation.
The NBC RV is the tenth and newest member in the Stryker family of military vehicles. It is the most advanced NBC detecting system on eight wheels.
The purpose of the study was twofold. First to evaluate the vehicles capabilities for protecting the crew. “We’re looking at how much the vehicle protects the occupants from a radiological environment,” said Maj. William Bosley Nuclear Effects Analyst, US Army Nuclear and Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Agency.
Secondly, and the real purpose of the test, is to evaluate a new methodology for calculating how well a vehicle will protect the crew from radiation using computer models.
“The primary purpose of this test was to validate the computer model so we can use it in the future if we can’t do a test at the reactor or with another radiological source,” Bosley said.
The associated computational modeling project, led by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Research and Development Directorate, uses design data from the vehicle manufacturer to simulate how those design characteristics would hold up in a radiological environment. By using a computer model in place of lower priority tests the Army and the Department of Defense would be able to save time and money, while still collecting data needed for decision makers.
“So instead of doing a test at the reactor on a regular basis on any different type of variant of every vehicle, we can model that (in the computer),” Bosley said.
The Stryker NBCRV was chosen for this test series because it’s a vehicle that’s most likely to see use during a nuclear event. Equipped with an array of sensors to evaluate nuclear, biological, and chemical threats, and equipped with a pressurized cabin to prevent the intrusion of dust, gas and other outside material, it is equipped specifically to handle hazardous environments.
“When we were looking at different vehicles and determining which was the highest priority, this was the highest because the Stryker NBCRV is designed for doing mounted reconnaissance in any kind of nuclear, biological or chemical environment,” Bosley said.
The fast burst reactor is an often unmentioned asset of the Army Test and Evaluation Command at White Sands Missile Range. A scientific tool, the reactor can generate bursts of radiation to replicate the conditions of a nuclear explosion or other radiological event. Alongside other assets at WSMR a vehicle or system can be tested for the full gamut of nuclear effects, including radiation, blast, heat, and even electromagnetic pulse.
“White Sands Test Center delivers the most comprehensive assortment of nuclear effects test capabilities within the DoD,” said Frank Sage, FBR facility Director. “This includes but is not limited to neutron, beta, gamma, lightning, high intensity thermal, electromagnetic pulse, high power microwave, and large blast environments.”
The Stryker test was somewhat different than normal testing which sees smaller items tested inside the reactor’s cell. “This test is different from typical testing in two ways. First, most testing is done at the system and component level to determine how well parts maintain their functionality. This test was performed to measure vehicle protection factors and support computer modeling to determine the protection factor of other vehicles. Second, this test was performed with the item under test external to the reactor exposure cell,” Sage said.
During the Cold War, the testing of various Army vehicles and systems for resistance to radiation and other nuclear threats was very common, but as the Cold War ended so too did the nuclear threat attached to it. For various reasons related to the reduced nuclear threat on the Army, testing of systems for nuclear effects became a lower priority. Today however with increased tensions and nuclear proliferation to more unpredictable nations, the Army has a renewed interest in providing better nuclear effects protection to the Soldier.
The data collected in the Stryker test isn’t just about the Stryker crew, but also the larger army, as commanders and other leaders will need know what their forces are capable of to lead them effectively in a hostile environment.
“We need that information, as planners and people that make decisions in operations in order to figure out where our people should and shouldn’t be when something goes off,”Bosley said, “and so we’re taking a look at that again because part of what the Army and military is doing is looking at reinvigorating some of our nuclear operations policy based on the nuclear posture review and the national defense strategy.”
While nuclear combat events are of primary concern to the Army, in the modern era a nuclear event could come from other sources too, making testing like this important not only for defense, but also for other emergency response options.
“When you look at the full spectrum of hazards in the environment, a nuclear weapon is a very unlikely event,” Bosley said. “However, things like Fukashima, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island, while we hope they never happen, vehicles like this could be used in those types of scenarios and in support of civil agencies if activated.”
This test was one of many that takes place regularly at WSMR, as the range can support customers of all stripes.” Our main customers are the DoD, the Department of Energy, and the National Nuclear Security Agency,” Sage said. “We also support NATO allies, other Agencies associated with the intelligence community, and private industry.”