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Truck armor testing at Aberdeen saving soldiers in combat zones.

Before new vehicle armor systems are deployed to soldiers in the field, they must first graduate from the Army's test center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. Conditions on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan have kept engineers at the test center busy is the demands of battle drive rapid equipment testing.

Staff at Aberdeen began testing the up-armored Humvee and armor-protection kits in August 2003. In addition to testing against the range of ballistic threats tactical vehicles could encounter on the battlefield, Aberdeen technicians bare examined the consequences of the added weight of armor on automotive performance.

Engineers at the Army's Research Development and Engineering Command and the Army Research Laboratory created the "expedient armor survivability kit," and sent it to Aberdeen for testing in mid-October 2003.

In charge of the tests was Col. John Rooney, chief of staff of the Army Developmental Test Command. Ballistic tests began Oct. 15, and by Oct. 27 the first kits had arrived in Iraq. DTC issued a safety confirmation several days later.

Testing took place seven days a week, 24 hours a day when test items were available.

The Army started adding armor to its Humvee trucks years before Operation Iraqi Freedom. The land-mine hazards in Bosnia led the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command to contract with O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, in Fairfield, Ohio, to produce armor for the "up-armored" M1114 Humvee variant.

But attacks from small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, prompted the Army to place priority on shortening production schedules and beefing up protection for vehicles already in the field.

The M1114 weighs about 2,000 pounds more than the standard Humvee and includes 200-pound steel-plated doors, steel plating under the cab and several layers of bonded, ballistic-resistant glass to replace zip-up plastic windows. The first up-armored Humvees rolled off production lines in 1996.

O'Gara also developed armor for the M1116 and M1145 Air Force variants of the Humvee, as well as an armor kit that can be installed on the newer M998A2 Humvee.

As of mid-June, at least 6,900 armor kits had been shipped to Iraq, and about 6,500 had been installed in theater. About 123 potential armor solutions have been tested, Rooney said.

By November, 2003, testers at Aberdeen turned their attention to the armor protection kits designed for the heavy expanded mobility tactical truck (HEMTT), the family of medium tactical vehicles (FMTV), the palletized load system (PLS) and other tactical wheeled vehicles.

Manufacturers provided the Army with samples of their armor, referred to as "coupons" by testers. Materials used for armor ranged from heavy steel to lightweight composite materials bonded with epoxy.

Testers subjected the coupons to a variety of ballistic threats to determine if they could prevent projectiles and fragments from penetrating them.

This survivability testing takes place at indoor ranges. One of these ranges is designed for testing soft and hard body armor, another is designed for one-piece and composite vehicle armor, and the third is a 100-meter range that can be configured to meet various test requirements.

Some protective kits were eliminated early on because the armor on them didn't match the capabilities of their competitors, Rooney said.

"When we started this process, we knew we needed to find solutions quickly and compare across a number of solutions," he said. "There are very likely scenarios that provide a significant challenge to the kits. This was not a 100-percent test, but it was a very simple test."

The next step was ballistic survivability testing at Aberdeen's outdoor ranges, aboard test vehicles. Testers placed instrumentation in the vehicle and on anthropomorphic dummies to obtain data on the impacts of various threats to both the vehicle and its occupants. Plywood devices that represent vehicle occupants are used for fragmentation tests.

These tests not only help the Army determine the damage to vehicle occupants from projectiles or fragments that pass through armor, but also whether the add-on armor systems, themselves, will fragment and injure or kill anyone in the vehicle, Rooney said.

Other tests determined how easily soldiers could open doors, roll down windows, enter or exit vehicles.

The Munson test area at Aberdeen Proving Ground, which has a variety of courses and road surfaces that challenge test vehicles, is the primary area for conducting automotive testing. Testers drove vehicles with installed armor systems over the test tracks to check road handling, wear and tear on mechanical parts, stress points caused by the extra weight, its effect on drive shafts and power trains.

Aberdeen's roadway simulator, considered the largest in the world, was used extensively. The roadway simulator is designed to conduct vehicle-dynamics, power-train performance, and shock and vibration testing on vehicles ranging from 5,000-pound, 2-axle light trucks to 80,000-pound tractor trailers in a controlled laboratory environment.

All armor kits examined had strengths and weaknesses from a testers standpoint, said Rooney.

While some systems were more protective than others because they used heavier armor, their weight was a serious problem. He cited as an example a company that had added more armor to make its system more protective, but it wound up being so heavy it snapped the test vehicle's drive shaft. Some systems with composite materials were light enough for vehicle performance requirements, but not protective enough.

The solutions that meet current urgent needs may not be the ultimate answer, Rooney added. The Army will keep looking for better technologies and testing them, he said.

As new armor kits are fielded, soldiers are being advised of the capabilities of these systems. Giving soldiers accurate information is critical, Rooney said, because they need to base their tactics on a realistic understanding of the level of protection afforded them.

Rooney said the Aberdeen Test Center has been "rapidly determining the capabilities and limitations" of armor systems on behalf of the Army.

Mike Cast is a public affairs officer at the Army Developmental Test Command, in Aberdeen, Md.
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Author:Cast, Mike
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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