After a decade of roadside bombs and RPG attacks on U.S. and NATO vehicles in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’ve learned how much extra armor weight certain vehicles can take before mobility suffers, powertrains are overtaxed, or suspension systems give out. Despite this knowledge, damage to the armor itself hasn’t been as easy to diagnose.
That’s why a team that includes Dr. Thomas Meitzler of the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is working on what they’re calling a “smart armor” system that uses transducers embedded into individual armor plates to monitor the real-time health of a vehicle’s armor, transmitting that information back to the crew inside the truck and to mechanics back at base.
Inside the vehicle, the individual armor panels are represented by images on a Blue Force Tracking screen colored green for a healthy plate, black for a damaged plate and flashing red if it is coming under fire. While the individual transducers aren’t capable of recording data for historical analysis, the computer network that they feed back to at base can record damage data in order to build a historical picture of where and how armor damage occurs.
A significant side benefit to using embedded sensors, Meitzler says, is that the transducer technology is also being evaluated for its ability to locate the direction from which small arms fire is coming. “When we learn more about the signal processing associated with different kinds of bullets,” he says, “we’ll be able to identify the type of bullet being fired based on its acoustic signature.”
The tests so far “are very encouraging,” he says, particularly because the Army is learning more about the acoustic fingerprints of different kinds of rounds and how the sensors withstand ballistic shock. The technology isn’t anywhere near being operational, Meitzler admits, but it just might be part of the next generation in soldier protection.