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Smiths Detection Inc. to develop explosive detector for federal government

Smiths Detection has landed an $11.8 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a device that could spot chemical explosives.

The contract, which runs through 2018, calls for Smiths to develop a chemical explosive detector, called a CED, that would attach to the joint chemical agent detector, or JCAD, the company already makes for the government.

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The device would be an improvement on current options — devices that must be carried as separate pieces of equipment, said Stephen Esposito, vice president and general manager of government and commercial solutions for Smiths.

"As threats change and various new kinds of compounds or agents are used, having the ability to detect them either as explosives or chemical agents requires updates to the core technology, and that's the premise behind the CED program," Esposito said.

The chemical detector is a device about the size of two cigarette packs that attaches to a belt and can detect dangerous chemicals, such as VX, the nerve agent authorities say was used to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half brother, Kim Jong Nam, at a Malaysian airport in February.

The explosives detector would use the same technology to alert users that explosives are nearby.

The contract comes as production of the chemical detector levels off. Since 2004, the company has made more than 80,000 chemical detectors for the federal government. In April, the company was awarded a $17 million follow-on production order to make the devices for the Army.

While the new contract is for research and development — not manufacture — of the explosives detector, Esposito expects a production order to follow.

The chemical detector is made at Smiths Edgewood facility. The explosives detector also would be manufactured there.

Smiths employs 500 people in the U.S., including 300 in Edgewood.

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