Army personnel at Aberdeen Proving Ground are developing methods to detect biological weapons in response to recent threats from North Korea, including a 15-foot-high device that soldiers have dubbed "the Kraken."
North Korea has issued a series of threats in recent weeks, and U.S. officials are monitoring the Korean peninsula, from which Kim Jong-un's government could launch ballistic missiles.
While the danger of missiles is more pressing, Army officials said developing better capabilities to detect biological warfare threats has also been a priority for the past six years.
The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense is working with APG's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center on the program, which is called the Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition, or JUPITR. The program will also serve to detect naturally occurring biological threats.
A key part of the program is the Kraken, which Army officials described as "a massive, multifunctional, all-seeing sensor suite designed to rapidly establish a defensive perimeter." Officials said the device got its nickname, a reference to a mythological sea creature with many tentacles, during field tests when it popped open rapidly, raising telescoping towers and activating field sensors. The Kraken has acoustic, infrared and thermal sensors.
The Army will conduct a field exercise connected with the program from June 17 to June 23 and formally begin testing shortly after.
The four-year JUPITR program has three other components. One is an information portal that tracks things such as medical supply shipments and disease outbreaks; another is upgrading facilities on the Korean peninsula so scientists can study biological samples there, saving time; and the third is a contest to develop the best field sensor to detect biological weapons.
Military leaders have recognized the need for a better response to the threat of biological weapons for several years. They developed a formal strategy last year but are still determining how that strategy will work in the field.