Armor may protect vehicles from being breached by roadside bombs, but it does not always protect vehicles and their passengers from being tossed up and slammed down by a blast.
For the past year, TenCate Advanced Armor USA has been working to prove to the US Army that its novel technology does just that. Its vehicle-mounted system detects a blast and, microseconds later, fires countermeasures upward like a shotgun blast that keep the vehicle down.
“What it really is is a technology evaluation of a brand new product they’ve never seen before,” said Paul Palmer, the company’s business development director. “There’s never been an active under-body threat protection system available.”
The company has entered a cooperative research and development agreement with Army Research and Development Command (RDECOM) to demonstrate its active blast countermeasure system (ABDS). The system’s countermeasures resemble four five-gallon jerry cans, one mounted on each corner of a vehicle, which with the other components weighs about 600 pounds.
ABDS’s accelerometer sensors detect the underbelly blast and its location, while its on-board processor predicts where the event is and whether it is life-threatening. If it is, it triggers the countermeasures, which fire a metal sand, according to Joe Dobriski, director of the company’s air, sea and land survivability systems.
If the event is not severe — say, the vehicle hits a pothole — the system powers down before firing the countermeasures. If a single countermeasure will do because the blast is mild, only one will fire.
ABDS has shown in tests that it decreased energy absorption, lowered vehicle jump heights, that it can reduce injuries, shorten recovery times, and improve mission effectiveness, the company says.
TenCate promotional materials claim the system cuts in half the jump height in a blast as well as the likelihood of spinal damage in the driver and right rear passenger.
“Just the act of lifting off the ground compresses the spine and causes traumatic brain injury, lumbar injuries,” Palmer said. “Then you have that dangerous flight in the air and objects in the vehicle that may puncture or kill you.”
In an ambush, if a blast injures troops and leaves the communications incapacitated, it’s so much the worse. “We’re improving the odds of the people in the vehicle and the people coming to their aid,” Palmer said.
TenCate says it has been testing ABDS with Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. For the US, TenCate is pitching it for the upgraded Humvee or Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
No similar technology exists in the US arsenal, and no formal requirement exists for it, so TenCate knows it must show the RDECOM that it is safe and effective. So far, the government has since analyzed and validated the system’s components individually, Palmer said.
In mid-October, TenCate and RDECOM entered the second phase of their agreement, which will include testing of the entire system on light, medium and heavy vehicles. TenCate hopes this will spark interest from the Army acquisition offices for the vehicles.
This year, the company launched a facility in Goleta, California, dedicated to ABDS program management, systems engineering, modeling and simulation, and live-fire testing.
TenCate acquired the technology in 2010 from former Danish Army officer Jørgen Svane, and has since been developing it, confident that there is an unmet need. Palmer compared ABDS to body armor and airbags, protective technologies that have quickly become ubiquitous.
“If the user thinks reducing back and head injuries are a good idea, it will get embraced, regardless of what the system is,” Palmer said. “In this particular case it’s just technology that they’re not familiar with yet.”
By JOE GOULD