Looking Back at NCT USA

On September 7th, NCT USA 2021 kicked off at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore, MD. This event marked the comeback of the famous NCT events series after the long stop imposed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. NCT USA, proudly sponsored by ADS Inc., featured an industry exhibition and a two-day conference moderated by BG (Ret.) William King, NCT Chairman and former commander of the US Army 20th CBRNE Command, addressing the latest CBRN, C-IED, and EOD trends and challenges.

Day one of NCT USA witnessed the exhibitors’ set-up and, most importantly, the first edition of the Dragons’ Pitch. The Dragons’ Pitch is a new approach developed by the NCT Team to find technologies to strengthen America’s CBRNe defense capabilities by scouting novel ideas, new products, and state-of-the-art research. This innovative panel format allowed exhibitors to present their ideas to key CBRNe stakeholders, including DTRA, DEVCOM CBC, and USAF. The opening plenary that took place on September 8th enjoyed vast and enthusiastic participation from close to 200 attendees from both the US and abroad. Welcoming and thought-provoking opening remarks were given by BG (Ret.) William King, Ms. Anna Paternnosto, Vice President of the CBRNe Society, Mr. Ilja Bonsen, Managing Director of IB Consultancy, Dr. Eric Moore, Director of the US Army DEVCOM CBC, Dr. Jason Roos, Joint Program Executive Officer, JPEO-CBRND and Dr. Kimberly Chamblin, CBRNE Business Development and Category Manager at ADS Inc.

The opening plenary was followed by the exhibition tour. This tour, divided into thematic areas, took the delegates to the booths of our exhibitors who showcased equipment, technology, and services relevant to their interests and was greatly appreciated by all the attendees involved.

The first afternoon saw two other conference sessions. The first one was titled “Adapting Capabilities for an Effective Response to Future Epidemic Outbreaks” and saw the participation of four high-level panelists: Mrs. Cicely Waters from HHS ASPR, COL Ryan Eckmeier from JPEO-CBRND, COL Todd Bell from USAMRIID, and Dr. Phil Gomez, CEO of SIGA Technologies. This panel session assessed the American response to COVID-19 and provided an overview of the American pandemic response and preparedness capabilities. Lessons learned from the fight against other viruses – and potential biological weapons – such as monkeypox and smallpox, should have enhanced the response capability against COVID. For instance, by developing an antiviral drug that tackled the whole SARS virus family, already known before the COVID outbreak.

The second session presented the trends in the fight against IEDs and saw the remote participation of Mr. Sean Haglund and Mr. Todd Klessman from DHS. The US witnessed a decrease in these particular threats in the last year, possibly due to the pandemic outbreak and following restrictions. However, homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) linked to foreign terrorist organizations continue to present serious threats to the US homeland. Their elected weapons of choice primarily are, indeed, IEDs. The National Academy of Science delivered a report in 2018, titled “Reducing the Threat of Improvised Explosive Device Attacks by Restricting Access to Explosive Precursor Chemicals”, summed up in five recommendations: combat both small and large IEDs; address multiple chemicals; focus on retail-level access; explore oversight of kits for making explosive targets; provide additional support for voluntary programs. The Office of Chemical Security within CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) focused on those recommendations to regulate IED precursor chemicals.

Conference day one was concluded by the NCT Networking Reception, offered by the Diamond Sponsor ADS, which allowed all the delegates attending NCT USA 2021 to mingle in a more informal environment.

Conference day two, on September 9th, kicked off with a keynote session opened by Dr. Ron Hann, Acting Director of Research and Development at DTRA and followed by Gabriel Sampoll-Ramirez, Chief Scientist, FBI WMD Directorate, COL Christopher Caldwell from JTF-CS, and Mr. Anthony Castellanos from Bruker Detection who addressed, respectively, the role of the Joint Task Force Civil Support and the latest innovations in IMS, MS and standoff detection. The keynote session was then followed by a panel session titled “C-IED/EOD: Lessons Learned and the Way Ahead” where Dr. Kirk Yeager from FBI Laboratory’s TEDAC, MAJ Cynthia Garceau from NATO C-IED CoE, and Mr. George McKerrow from MAC 7 were given the floor. Dr. Yeager presented the history of the terrorist threat posed by IEDs and assessed the risks of the newest types of explosives composed of chemicals easily available on the market – referring back to the 2018 study by NAS mentioned by CISA in their intervention too. Mr. McKerrow spoke about Dismounted operations in a High Threat IED Environment, with a focus on operations carried out during the Global War on Terror corroborated by first-hand experience. Lastly, MAJ Garceau addressed the interagency approach to C-IED within NATO, explaining the international C-IED approach and presenting network case studies and the key lessons learned. The lunch break was followed by a USAMRICD command brief carried out by COL Robin Neumeier, Commander of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, and Dr. James Dillman, Director of Research, who jointly presented also at the recently concluded NCT Europe event which took place at the Joint Italian NBC Defense School in Rieti on 5-7 October 2021.

After the command brief, Dr. Scott Hartley from Proengin Inc., Mr. David Bowers from the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Dr. Eric Moore, and Dr. Calvin Chue from DEVCOM CBC addressed the threat posed by Novichoks and pharmaceutical-based agents. This panel explained the threat and the detection challenges posed by 4th generation and pharmaceutical-based agents. The investigations conducted by USPIS can help in identifying pharmaceutical-based agents and have indeed proven resourceful in the fight against narcotraffic, too. COL Eric Towns from the Joint Requirements Office (JRO) for CBRND took then the floor and explained how the JRO works with other US agencies in the CBRN mission sphere. NCT USA was concluded by the closing remarks by the organizers Ms. Paternnosto and Mr. Bonsen, and the NCT Chairman BG (Ret.) William King. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 restrictions and the related change of venue from Aberdeen Proving Ground to Baltimore, NCT USA provided an excellent platform for interagency discussions and knowledge sharing in the CBRNe mission sphere. You can check out some pictures from NCT USA 2021 here. The NCT Team is looking forward to welcoming back the American CBRNe Community to NCT USA 2022 in September in Edgewood!