Military plans to field new chemical
detector/alarm starting this October

MEMPHIS, August 23,1997 (GulfLINK) - The armed services will begin using an entirely new and more effective chemical weapons alarm this October.

The new M22 ACADA, for Automatic Chemical Agent Detector Alarm, will replace the M8A1 alarm that gave frequent false alarms during Operation Desert Storm.

Anne Rathmell Davis of the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI), outlined this change during her testimony June 24th in Memphis to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses. Davis explained that the M8A1 alarm, first fielded a dozen years ago, had two major shortcomings when used in the Persian Gulf theater.

First, it could detect the vapors of nerve agents, such as Tabun, Sarin and Soman, but not blister agents like the Nitrogen Mustard. (Nerve agents attack the nervous system, causing incapacitation and death, while blister agents create blisters on the skin and, if inhaled, damage the lungs.)

Second, the M8A1 had a very high false alarm rate, because it was set off by high concentrations of interfering chemicals, such as diesel exhaust, some pesticides, gasoline vapor, and fog oil/smoke used in combat for signaling and for hiding vehicles and personnel. The M8A1 was not designed for either the fast paced movement that characterized Desert Storm, which produced clouds of diesel exhaust, or the dense smoke produced once the Iraqis began setting oil well fires on January 24, 1991, a full month before the ground war began.

Davis said the new ACADA will address both of those shortcomings. It can detect both nerve gas and mustard gas vapors. Tests have shown that not only will the false alarms rate be much lower, more significantly, the ACADA alarm will not be set off by diesel exhaust.

She quoted from an after-action report by the 2nd Light Armored Infantry Battalion to show how the large number of false alarms led units in Desert Storm to distrust and then to ignore the M8A1.

"From the Saudi berm north," the battalion report said, "the air was heavy with oil smoke. This smoke deposited an oily residue on the alarm's paddles which collected sand that tripped the alarm. On the average, the alarms activated every 20-30 minutes. Each activation was a false alarm that was verified by M256 kits [a more sensitive chemical detector that does not produce false alarms as often as the M8A1]. Finally, due to their complete unreliability, the M8A1 alarms were turned off."

This was the experience of one battalion. Other units also had alarms sounding frequently. Army doctrine requires that each unexplained alarm be treated as genuine and that all troops get into their protective clothing until a check by the more discerning M256 kit determines whether the alarm was set off by a chemical agent or something harmless. Many soldiers, however, reported their units became so frustrated by repeated false alarms that they just shut their M8A1s off.

OSAGWI briefed the Presidential Advisory Committee on much of its current investigative work on June 24 in Memphis. In addition to covering detection issues like the M8 alarm, it briefed the committee on the status of its investigations into reported chemical incidents involving Al Jubayl, the 11th Marines, Ammunition Storage Point/Orchard, Fox vehicle detections, the Fox tapes at Edgewood arsenal, the Marine breaching of the Iraqi mine fields, and the VII Corps "frag order".