Navy launches fleetwide effort against biological weapons

The U.S. Navy has taken major steps against biological weapons by launching an effort to equip sailors more effectively for biological and chemical warfare.

A decade ago, a Navy crew would only know if it had been infected with a biological agent after people started getting sick. Even just a few months ago, many ships might not have known for at least a few hours, the Virginian-Pilot reports.

"By then, everything could be contaminated," Jeff Smith, a civilian engineer with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., said, according to the Virginian-Pilot. "It had to get faster."

The Navy anticipates that by 2016, almost half its fleet will be outfitted with new technology that can identify biological agents in a matter of minutes. By 2018, all surface ships are expected to have equipment to detect most chemical threats immediately.

"We know there are many countries that have the capability to launch these kinds of attacks," Smith said, according to the Virginian-Pilot. "No question, it's a threat that our sailors have to be able to counter quickly."

While Navy ships have had the capacity for detecting chemical and biological warfare agents for years, the new systems are faster, more accurate and easier to use. The biological attack system has now been installed on more than 50 ships. Sailors just need to flip a switch to turn on the automated system mounted permanently within the ship.

"You know almost immediately if there's a problem," Lt. Junior Grade Arthur Bond, the damage control assistant aboard the Norfolk, Va.-based Mahan, said, according to the Virginian-Pilot. "So you can start dealing with it immediately."

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