Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bad Bugs Part II: Countering BW MAV Payloads Converged with Swarming Technologies

In my first article "Bad Bugs: Micro Air Vehicles as a Delivery System for Biological Weapons," I discussed how emerging technologies will likely change the landscape of offensive biological weapon research. While advances in technology such as MAV's is the purview of DARPA, unfortunately, the potential for states of concern, to modify these exciting technologies can not be ignored. Certainly an aspect of bio-defence in considering offensive capability of defensive technologies. 

No doubt current  research is underway to assess the risk  BW embedded MAV (Micro Aerial Vehicle) payloads combined with swarming drone technology, poses to the war-fighter, should it be used in the future offensively against our own forces and and/or civilian populations. It would be quite easy to imagine various scenarios where tiny swarming drones released a highly weaponized pathogenic agent into the ventilation system of a subway or airport. Hopefully security experts are very far down the line, working to develop counter-measures for this potential future weapon system; perhaps counter measures which include focused low-level electromagnetic pulses embedded in specific configurations in ventilation systems, to move beyond the standard filters. Would it be possible to burn up MAV's in an enclosed system thereby killing two birds with one stone, should there be a BW payload?  Does  the potential exist to develop or impregnate 'sensitive' construction materials with low level magnetic coatings? Traditional filtration alone may not be compatible in countering this type of deployment platform. From an offensive weapon viewpoint, which we must consider in order to take appropriate defence counter-measures, it might be interesting to consider how future technologies might merge,  such as the use of vanishing technologies (which I have written on previously); whereby there would be no immediate trace that a bug drone even delivered deadly pathogens. 

One of the characteristics which sets biological weapons apart, certainly from chemical and nuclear class weapons, is that as we progress in areas such as synthetic biology, and even in some instances, without this advancement, biological pathogens which are highly virulent need not be delivered in abundance. Quite the opposite. A relatively robust hit could be accomplished with a minimum of actual pathogenic agent, particularly if it has undergone genetic modification or specific modifications to the weaponization process to increase dispersal. Without going into great technical detail on aerosolization, it is this aspect of deployment which I view as one of the more interesting per future BW development and compatible delivery platforms. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerosol

Photomicrograph made with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM): Fly ask particles at 2,000 x magnification. Most of the particles in this aerosol are nearly spherical. 

In many ways a tiny MAV- BW payload would be an advanced dispersal technology platform which, if encapsulated properly, could evade current detection systems as well. The future of binary BW technology where timed components could be remotely activated could be an emerging technology for which we must, as a nation,be prepared. While this is clearly the domain of national defence programs as it involves a number of technologies which are not suited to backyard bio-hacking, it does combine technologies which will likely become platforms of choice for biological warfare weapons of the future.  How we counter the threat of these emerging technologies will advance our understanding of biological weapons considerably and enhance our ability to counter emerging threats. 

Merging Future Technology with Future Challenge in Bio-defence

In a scenario where weaponized anthrax might be loaded into a MAV payload, dispersal would be a key factor in achieving higher kill ratios. "The endospores of bacillus anthracis are the infectious particles of anthrax. Spores are dormant bacterial morphotypes able to withstand harsh environments for decades, which contribute to their ability to be formulated and dispersed as a biological weapon." (See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.gov/pubmed/14679236). If we consider the weaponization process, used in the US postal anthrax attacks, such a process would be highly compatible with small payload dispersal. I will not debate the method in which the anthrax was weaponized, as I tend to agree with at suppositions presented in the Journal of Aerosol Science basically that the spores were collected by simple centrifugation to remove spent media. The pelleted material was dried by a proprietary azeotropic method. Ten percent (by weight) of an amorphous silica-based flow enhancer was added to the dried spores. The dried material was then milled using an exclusionary ball mill. In this process the material passed through a series of stages separated by increasingly finer mesh screens. In each passage 0.01m diameter steel balls forced the product through the screen seperators. A pneumatic vibrator actuated the entire mill. Two substances were put into the mill: fumed silica and spores. In the Triboelectric Series chart, spores would be among the 'most postive' and fumed silica particles would be among the 'most negative.' When friction is applied in a ball mill, that is literally a recipe for biding two substances together with static electricity.  It is worth noting that this type of weaponization is compatible. While I have never been a particular fan of b.anthracis,)  as in most instances its easily treatable and does is not transmissible, it does lend itself to this particular type of dispersal technology. 

Other highly pathogenic and weaponized agents could be used as well. Synthetic and nano particle agents for which no-vaccine or medical counter measure currently exist pose more specific problems for which unconventional counter-measure, as noted above, may likely provide solutions.

Dragon voice recognition 

Jill Bellamy is an internationally recognized expert on biological warfare and defence. She has formerly advised NATO and for the past seventeen years has represented a number of bio-pharmaceutical and government clients working on procurement strategy between NATO MS and Washington DC. Her articles have appeared in the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times of London, Le Temps, Le Monde and the Jerusalem Post among other publications. She is a CBRN SME with the U.S. Department of Defence, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Information Analysis Center and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, a private consultancy based in the Netherlands. She is an Associate Fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, UK.

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