U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: May 17, 2001
Soldiers safer in Advanced Bomb Suit
Natick, Mass. --- With a plan in mind and de-armer in hand, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) soldier spends about five minutes to render safe a bomb that threatens lives or property. He needs to trust the suit of armor worn to survive the blast and fragmentation of a detonation should the plan fail.
"A big issue with EOD members is knowing whether the bomb suit is going to protect what it's supposed to," said Steven Herman, EOD combat developer at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Va. "The legacy bomb suit is at that stage in its life where the Army EOD community has lost confidence in its protective capabilities."
Belief in their protective equipment should return with the Advanced Bomb Suit, developed by Product Manager-Soldier Equipment at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick) in collaboration with the Combined Arms Support Command. The new suit will replace the legacy PS-820 bomb suit beginning next summer.
"The combat and materiel developers have adroitly quantified and qualified the threat faced today," said Barry Hauck, project director at Product Manager-Soldier Equipment. "Both the combat and materiel developers have a great knowledge of what's required by the EOD community and what's available from the marketplace. It's helped to enhance the (Integrated Product Team's) credibility with the program."
The Army-led program is also of interest to fellow military and civilian bomb disposal experts as the new suit brings the latest in design and technology. "The leap in design and comfort may become the new industry standard," said Hauck.
The current suit was first fielded in 1988 to Army EOD units. Until then, their main protection came from a flak vest and helmet, according to Herman, who served 21 years in the Air Force as an EOD technician. Although the current suit still performs as designed, many improvements were needed.
The old bomb suit's 61 pounds of aramid armor, fiberglass and polycarbonate is unevenly distributed, which could throw a technician off-balance during delicate operations. The area behind the legs is uncovered. Besides fogging up on a cool day, the face shield's shape distorts depth perception, and its bulk is clumsy and intrusive.
"The face shield is very top heavy and unstable," said Michael Zielinski, lead project engineer at Product Manager-Soldier Equipment. "(EOD soldiers) lean over a lot, and that instability creates discomfort both physically and psychologically. It just doesn't work for them."
The new suit uses a compact face shield attached to a ballistic and impact-protective helmet instead of a chest plate with a contoured face shield attached on top. A ventilation system helps clear the visor and provides fresh air. Instead of handling a radio, the new suit integrates the Soldier Intercom System into the helmet for hands-free communication with the command post and other team members.
The current suit was designed and constructed to withstand fire, heat and impact from high-speed fragmentation when rendering safe or disposing unexploded ordnance, such as artillery shells or grenades, and improvised explosive devices such as pipe, letter or car bombs. The new suit enhances these capabilities by adding tougher upper leg and abdominal protection along with impact protection to the head and spine.
"The current suit has very little impact protection," Zielinski said. "Initial blast wave impact to the head and chest or getting thrown down on the ground can cause a serious or lethal injury. Armor covering the back of the body gives them head, leg and spinal protection when they hit the ground."
Although the new suit is expected to weigh slightly more than the legacy PS-820, it will use the new generation of ballistic material. It protects better, and weight is well-distributed for comfort.
"As with all personal body armor systems, we always need to make trade-offs between weight and protection vs. comfort and mobility," Hauck said.
Technicians may wear the suit for up to one hour during a mission, Herman said.
If desired, the new suit can accommodate the Personal Ice Cooling System, which circulates cold water through a vest to lower core body temperature.
A protective suit also can be worn underneath the bomb suit when the threat involves a chemical or biological component. Because of the inherent hazards of bomb disposal, EOD soldiers try to avoid donning the suit as much as possible.
"Time-permitting and if the situation allows, doctrine requires the EOD soldier to attempt to remotely render safe a bomb using robots to X-Ray a package or take some action to reduce or neutralize the hazard," Hauck said.
The new suit can come off within 20 seconds to help transport an injured soldier for medical treatment.
Another requirement is that the new suit support a hands-free light, helpful when supplemental light is needed.
More than 2,200 bomb incidents were reported to the FBI's Bomb Data Center in 1997, according to a general information bulletin from the U.S. Department of Justice. When close human contact is necessary, this newest barrier from an explosion has features that steer attention to the mission, not the suit. That's what may count the most.
"This suit won't make you invincible in all situations, but because of our early research into documented injuries to bomb technicians, we have a better understanding of what's required and have established benchmarks for future design improvements," Zielinski said.
Natick is part of the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM). For more information about SBCCOM or the Soldier Systems Center (Natick) please visit our website at http://www.sbccom.army.mil.