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Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ACES (ACES: Air Cargo Explosive Screener)


The ACES (Air Cargo Explosives Screener) program will be devoted to the certification of a new explosive screener based on vapour detection, targeting the airport security market for cargo screening. ACES is the first screener of a new generation of equipments, and it has been...


The ACES (Air Cargo Explosives Screener) program will be devoted to the certification of a new explosive screener based on vapour detection, targeting the airport security market for cargo screening. ACES is the first screener of a new generation of equipments, and it has been developed to identify explosive threats with sensitivity and discrimination power orders of magnitude better than state-of-the-art systems. It is unmatched in its ability to screen large volumes in minutes, such as cargo containers and whole trucks, without cargo disassembly.
The main objective of the project is the certification of ACES in the EU, Israel and the US. Formal certification by National Security Agencies is mandatory in all countries: air freight operators cannot use a screener until it has been formally certified. In order to pass the certification tests, some technical improvements will be developed to enhance the current performance of the detector to accomplish with agencies requirements.

The conclusions of the action can be summarizing as follow:

• Final certifications in some nations were not totally accomplished at the time of the final period due to some delays in the organizations and certification agencies schedules.
• Tests carried out in collaboration with Israel and US organizations took placed according to the plan with positive outcome.
• Technical improvements were finished with some advances in the performance of the detector, but the final detection of the compounds was not totally achieved.

Work performed

Some technical improvements have been developed and implemented during the project. Resolution and sensitivity have improved considerably, increasing Probability of Detection (PoD) and reducing False Alarm Ratio (FAR). This improvement has been achieved through some HW modifications in the system such as more efficient pre-laminarization stages, increase of gas speed in the DMA and some chemical improvements in the ionzation stage.

Two new target compounds (DNT: Dinitrotoluene and AN: Ammonium Nitrate) have been optimized and added to the detectable substance library according to the new aviation security rules. DNT is not an explosive in itself but it’s both a very common taggant in a lot of explosives and the manufacturing process of TNT generates a lot of traces of this compound. Its detection has already been accomplished, although better detection performances can be implemented in the near future. An is not an explosive in itself either; in fact, it is used as a common fertilizer in agriculture and its abundance in the atmosphere is at the level of ppt-ppb. Its detection is based on detecting nitric acid detection and ammonia detection independently. Some advances in acid detection have been achieved but full detection has not been accomplished yet.

Informal tests were planned to take place in the port of Vigo (North West of Spain). However, bureaucracy forced the postponement of operational tests until an agreement might be reached with Spanish Customs. In order to solve this issue, SEDET has developed a simulated environment in the surroundings of the laboratory, where the informal tests have been carried out. The goal of these tests is to assess, optimize and evaluate the improvements implemented in the system to satisfy the certification requirements.

Pre-certification tests have been conduced in different parts of the world such as the Phase II program in Ben Gurion Airport and US within the pre-certification tests in collaboration with US Security Laboratory (TSL) in order to know and assess the detector\'s performance. The objective of these assessments was to set a common starting point to elaborate a certification protocol and conops (Concept of Operation).
EU Certification: The ECAC Study group is working on the protocol definition and pilot tests have not begun yet.

Final results

Present air cargo screening approaches are based, essentially, on X-Ray inspections carried out by operators in a procedure similar to the one performed on cabin luggage, but the X- Ray screening process has a major drawback for aeronautical cargo: When depth of inspected cargo increases, probability of detection decreases dramatically, while inspection time increases also radically.
User Requirements for air cargo explosive screening can be synthesized as follows:
1. Screening for cargo must be done in a single step done at the airport entrance. This type of screening is known as “large freight screening”,
2. Detection of all explosives in amounts much lower than 1 kg per cargo load (the exact figure is classified),
3. Very high Probability of Detection (PoD),
4. Very low False Alarm Rate (FAR),
5. No Operator “interpretation”, and
6. Cost per kg lower than present operation
If we analyze the previous criteria, it is possible to conclude that:
• Requirements 2 and 5 can only be met by a molecular detection method.
• Requirement nº 1 cannot be met by current ETDs (Explosive Trace Detection) , hence EVD (Explosive Vapour Detection) is the method of choice.
• Requirements 1 to 3 call for a very high sensitivity, while requirement 4 requires a very high resolution.
• Requirement 5 is automatically met if detection is automatic.
• Requirement 6 is also met if complete trucks can be screened without unloading them.
The technical challenge for EVDs lies in the fact that the physics underlying vapour detection are still partially unknown, so a debate is open over the sensitivity and resolution levels needed in order to comply with requirements 1 to 4. This challenge, which has been unsolved for decades, has recently been solved by ACES, as proved by the informal and formal tests made in the last years by National Laboratories and Security Agencies, in the EU, Israel and US.
ACES delivers a radical improvement from present explosive screening procedures:
• 100% of air cargo is inspected at the airport entrance.
• Screening is done directly on the truck prior to discharge.
• Screening is completed in a single operation in a few minutes.
• Screenings costs are many times lower than present-day operations.
• Probability of Detection (PoD) and False Alarm rate (FAR) improve considerably over present day performances.
The level of security in airports will increase remarkably giving a boost of the passenger’s confidence within a world where the number of terrorist threats is in continuous rise.
Impacts will also be very relevant at the scientific level, since the ACES technology is considerably superior to present state-of-the-art, and has allowed presentation of more than 15 new patents (most of them prior to initiation of the ACES project, but based on the same technology).
Impact will not remain in a scientific or technological scope, but will extend to the society at large. As a matter of fact, around 3,500 billion enplanements take place every year in the world, which numerically equals to half of the world population. Indeed, air travel is an essential element of business and leisure activities worldwide. Nevertheless, after decades of unfruitful research and development, we still have no-reliable systems to face the increasing terrorist threat. Owing to its outstanding performance and non-intrusive characteristics, ACES will genuinely solve this problem, contributing to maintain and enhance the perception of air travelling as a secure and comfortable activity, with an undoubted positive effect over the global economy and social wellbeing at large.

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