Protecting the Troops from ‘Underbody Threats’ with Lighter Armor

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ISAF photo

IED components like these are found regularly in Afghanistan

War begets acronyms.

You knew we were in trouble when roadside bombs became “improvised explosive devices” early in the Iraq war. IEDs have gotten so bad that the Army is planning an OCP TECD next week. That’s an Occupant Centric Platform Technology Enabled Capability Demonstration, if you’re not up to speed on the latest lingo.

Its purpose is to share with the armor industry about the “technical knowledge gained, test data and results of demonstrations and evaluations for protecting soldiers in underbody blast, crash and rollover events,” according to an announcement of the gathering, to be held at the Army’s Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Mich.

Basically, the Army is seeking its version of a perpetual-motion machine — to do more with less:

For those not familiar with the OCP TECD, it seeks to identify, develop, and integrate technologies that will protect occupants of ground vehicle systems from underbody threats, crashes and rollovers while maintaining or improving the mobility of the vehicle system while reducing the weight for that protection. The OCP TECD accomplishes this by addressing gaps in occupant protections standards; tools and techniques to research blast, crash and rollover mitigation capabilities; ground vehicle interior technologies for protection of occupants; and ground vehicle exterior technologies for mitigation effects of underbody last events. This allows OCP TECD to provide soldiers and ground vehicle platforms with affordable and manufacturable survivability solutions against known and anticipated threats within specified programmatic requirements.

Sounds like serious business, and it is. IEDs have become a key killer of U.S. and allied troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In the last two years, IED events have increased 42%, from 9,300 events in 2009 to about 16,000 events in 2011, and 2011 had our highest annual number of IED events ever,” Army Lieut. General Michael Barbero, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said last month. “2012 is a little below 2011, but I’d point out that June 2012 was the highest monthly level of IED events that we’ve seen.”

The U.S. has spent about $18 billion on Barbero’s organization, and $40 billion more to buy mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles to protect troops from IEDs.

Such investments are vital, Barbero said, because the IED threat is here to stay. “It is an enduring threat that I think, both operationally to our forces and domestically, will be here for decades,” he said. “While we in the U.S. military march to the sound of the guns, these threat networks march to the signs of instability and take the IED with them.”