Detecting suicide attacks – from research to reality

  • 30 Oct. 2013 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 30 Oct. 2013 16:02

It is a world first: technology for the remote, real-time detection of explosives was tested live in an underground station in a major European city. The results were conclusive, paving the way for more widespread use of this technology. It marked the completion of the development and test phase of the Stand-off Detection of Explosives programme, known as STANDEX – the result of four years of joint work between experts from NATO and Russia.

An important milestone has been marked in the cooperation between NATO and Russia in the fight against terrorism in public transport systems. During the live tests which took place last June in the underground railway of a European capital, the STANDEX project was able in real time to both pinpoint a suspect and detect explosives concealed on their body. The alert was activated by an innovative system which also provided analysis of all the data gathered by the different detectors.

The project could help NATO Allies and Russia prevent terrorist attacks such as those carried out on the public transport systems in London, Madrid and Moscow.

Detection without disruption

STANDEX is a unique and innovative programme using various technologies, which have been shared and tested for the first time. It can detect explosives remotely, in real time and without disrupting the flow of passengers. It can identify, track and locate any object or person identified as carrying explosives, and can control the triggering of the alarm.

The first two technologies are based on microwave scanning,” says Dmitry Vakhtin, researcher at the Khlopin Radium Institute, based in St Petersburg, Russia. “The system detects explosives concealed on someone,” he explains. Anomalies in the molecular composition of the objects or people under surveillance can be seen immediately.

The control system regulates all the sensors and centralises and combines all the data. If something unusual is detected, it triggers the video surveillance system and enhances the sensitivity of the next set of sensors.

"The spectroscopy technique is very powerful,” says an Italian representative of the Rome-based National Agency for new Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA). “It detects traces of explosives everywhere on people. It is a unique technology which can be operated in mass transit and in eye-safe mode, in full respect of international security laws," he adds.

Further tests and transfer to industry foreseen

A second phase of the project is due to be launched, concentrating on emergency management, or, what should be done once a terrorist has been identified. Further tests are foreseen, this time in Russia.

"So far, the results of the STANDEX project have been convincing. We would like to test the technology in our metro network and, on the basis of the results, decide how it can be incorporated in the St Petersburg metro security system," says Mikhail Korolev, Chief Engineer of the St Petersburg metro.

One of the great advantages of STANDEX is its flexibility. The technology can adapt to any environment, be it an underground railway station, an airport or a sports stadium.

"We do not have to completely rethink the system in order to adapt it to meet requirements, and this is the really strong point of the STANDEX technology," explains Pierre Charrue, STANDEX Project Director.

Talks with industry are already underway and the aim is to transfer the technology to the industrial sector by the end of October 2015, so that it can be brought onto the market.

“We will show industry that we have a viable product. Industry can see what NATO has done and what they have to do therefore to commercialise it and make it usable. It has to be affordable,” says Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division.

Pooling skills and know-how

"The STANDEX programme is the result of the real and profound shared will of the NATO nations and the Russian Federation to foil attempts to attack critical infrastructure, in particular mass transport facilities," says Pierre Charrue.

For both NATO and Russia, STANDEX was, first and foremost, a human challenge rather than technological or political: it meant bringing together some very diverse skills and cultures to form a close-knit and committed team.

“STANDEX is our common child,says Vladimir Dyakov, Counsellor at the Russian Mission to NATO. “It is cooperation between different states and also different kinds of entities.” He emphasises that this is a first step towards further cooperation. “This is not a final point for STANDEX but a point of reflection: how can we find ways to go forward, to get better use of what we have created together.”

The importance of the Russian contribution to the success of the programme is widely acknowledged.“One of the important technologies that we are using was invented by the Russian side,” says Jamie Shea.

“Russian technology is used heavily in this project,” adds Alain Coursaget, Director of ACCES2S, a risk-management company based in Le Chesnay, France.

A success of the NATO-Russia Council

Officially launched in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council in February 2010, the STANDEX programme was designed and developed jointly by a consortium of Dutch, French, German, Italian and Russian laboratories and companies, pooling their skills and know-how.

So far, STANDEX has cost €4.8 million. Funding is provided via the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme and by national contributions from the British, French, Italian, Russian, Turkish and US governments.