Apg-prepared Foxes On The Scent Of Chemical Weapons

February 24, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Lt. Col. Michael I. D'Andries was preparing German-built chemical detection vehicles for the U.S. Army at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground last August when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

D'Andries' studies on the chemical detection vehicle, called the Fox, could not havecome at a more crucial time.

Now, as an American-led ground attack to free Kuwait could be imminent, if not underway, the threat of Iraq's arsenal of chemical weapons has coalition soldiers on the battlefield at great risk.

"We were not scheduled to field (the vehicles) until 1992," said D'Andries, assistant manager of the Fox project at the Army's Chemical Research, Development and Engineering Center. "But we fielded it now as a directresult of Desert Storm."

Two members of the Edgewood Area's Fox project -- Capt. Edward Marshall and Capt. Lary Chinowsky -- have been sent to the Persian Gulf.

Stationed in Saudi Arabia, Marshall and Chinowsky are overseeing maintenance of the Fox vehicles, D'Andries said.

The armored Fox is formally known as the Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Reconnaissance Systems Vehicle. It takes samples of air and soil to test for contamination as it travels at speeds of up to 65 mph.

Developed by the Germans three years ago, the Fox is a six-wheeled armored vehicle that weighs 17 tons and operates on a 320-horsepower engine. It is 24 feet long, 10 feet wide and eight feet high.

At the time of the Iraqi invasion six months ago, the Army had only five Foxes, D'Andries said. Two of the vehicles were at APG andthe others were at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

Researchers, including 42-year-old D'Andries from Bel Air, were evaluating the Foxes to determine how they could be integrated into the Army.

D'Andries said he was studying the Fox's engineering to determine what changes were needed for the vehicle to meet Army specifications.

Some of the expected changes included installing a new communications system.

The Army was planning to buy 48 of the $1.5 million vehicles from the German government and deploy them in 1992, D'Andries said.

But as the United States moved closer to war and Iraq's use of chemical weapons appeared likely, the Foxes were immediately shipped to the front lines in Saudi Arabia.

Germany gave the United States 60 Foxes to use in the war effort, D'Andries said. The army still plans to buy the 48 additionalvehicles.

The Fox, operated by a four-man crew, uses two silicone wheels in the back to snatch up samples of dirt, which is then heated to 500 degrees and tested -- within seconds -- for signs of chemical nerve agents, mustard gas and biological agents, D'Andries said.

Monitors on the sides of the vehicle are used to detect nuclear radiation, D'Andries added.

The vehicle's crew raises a flag to let ground troops know whether an area is contaminated so they can put on their protectivegear or change course, D'Andries said.

The Fox marks a vast improvement over chemical detection systems the Army had been using, D'Andries said. In the past, soldiers had to get out of armored vehicles, scoop up soil samples and then test them.

"It was very slow and it wasnot continuous," he said. "It was very manpower-intensive."

With the Fox now in service, D'Andries said his next project willbe to upgrade the vehicle with new technology.

D'Andries, a 20-year Army veteran, said the Fox will be equipped with detectors that will be able to sample air three miles away.

The Fox now samples the air in the immediate area where it is traveling, D'Andries said.

The vehicle also will be equipped with automated data processors to predict where the chemical agents will travel and how long the agents will pose a hazard, D'Andries said.

The processors will then automatically send the information to ground troops, D'Andries said.

The improvements are expected to be ready in 1993, D'Andries said.

Because of the Fox's unusual appearance, crews worry that it will be mistaken for an enemy vehicle by allied forces, according to the Associated Press.

Most of thearmored vehicles used in the American armed forces use tracks -- like those on tanks -- not wheels, D'Andries said.

"We have found ourselves being tracked by the main guns of M1-A1 tanks with suspicious crews and that scares us," Sgt. William Saavedra told the Associated Press.

Crews use the Jolly Roger symbol of skulls and cross bones to identify the Fox as an allied vehicle, the AP said. The Army also has passed out pictures of the vehicle so troops will be familiar with its appearance.

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