Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
The Army’s Next Body Armor May Get Stronger The Harder It’s Hit
The Army has been racing to equip soldiers with lighter, more durable body armor and helmets for years, a requirement that Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley reiterated during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington on Oct. 11. And defense contractors like Gentex, the corporation behind the Army’s Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH), flooded AUSA’s tech expo to showcase the latest updates in soldier protection.
But with the help of university researchers, the Army’s own engineers just took a major step towards developing durable materials to keep American troops safe during a firefight. On Oct. 11, the Army Research Laboratory and Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology at MIT touted the benefits of “poly(urethane urea) elastomers” (PUUs), astoundingly rugged and elastic polymers that the branch described as “fifteen times stronger than steel [but] flexible like fabrics.”
The extra strength is impressive, but the degree of flexibility is what distinguishes a PUU from the bulky average Army battle armor, with its rigid ceramic and metal plates. Instead, envision a "chainmail-like" network of PUU fibers, which deform upon impact before returning to their original thickness — allowing them to absorb more energy from, say, a 7.62mm round from a Taliban AK-47, and be good to go for reuse. As the Army Research Lab’s Dr. Alex Hsieh said in a statement, materials made up of PUUs literally “bounce back after the impact.”
A scanning electron microscopy image reveals a permanent indent on the surface of polycarbonate in contrast to poly(urethane urea) elastomers or PUUs, where no damage was observed after impact.Photo via U.S. Army/DoD
But the unique molecular makeup of PUUs means the fibers don’t just last longer but work harder when faced with high-speed impacts: There’s potential, according to the Army, that the materials could “change from rubber-like to glass-like when they are deformed at increasing high rates.” In layman’s terms: The harder it’s hit, the stronger it gets — not unlike the strange bulletproof goo dreamed up by an Air Force Academy cadet back in May 2017.
While Army and MIT researchers are still exploring the capabilities and limits of the new material, the potential applications include “transparent face shields, mandible face shields, ballistic vests, extremity protective gear, and blast-resistant combat boots,” according to the branch. The application to combat helmets may prove especially important in preventing the force of a shell’s impact from transferring through the helmet and causing blunt force trauma, a problem for even the most robust protection system.
Two U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Special Operations Command-Europe, engage opposing forces at an objective during Jackal Stone 2016 in Tblisi, Georgia, on Aug. 15, 2016.Photo via U.S. Army/DoD
The PUU polymer is still in the testing phase, but the Army may end up slapping the stuff onto its soldiers faster than previous personal protection systems, thanks to a coming reorganization of the branch’s procurement process. In a letter to general officers released on Oct. 6, Milley announced that the Army was poised to completely overhaul its approach to buying, testing, and fielding of new weapons and equipment as a part of a service-wide modernization effort.
The branch needs to field “not only next-generation individual and squad weapons, but also improved body armor, sensors, radios, and load-bearing exoskeletons,” Milley wrote. “Putting this all together, we must improve human performance and decision making by increasing training and assessment, starting at the Soldier level.”
The average soldier may not end up donning this post-industrial PUU chainmail before deploying to Afghanistan or Syria in the coming years, but Milley’s comments suggest that, should the PUU research continue to yield such fantastic results, such revolutionary body armor could end up in armories downrange sooner rather than later. Until then, we’ll make do with some bullet-stopping goo instead.
The Air Force's top general says one of the designers of the ride-sharing app Uber is helping the branch build a new data-sharing network that the Air Force hopes will help service branches work together to detect and destroy targets.
The network, which the Air Force is calling the advanced battle management system (ABMS), would function a bit like the artificial intelligence construct Cortana from Halo, who identifies enemy ships and the nearest assets to destroy them at machine speed, so all the fleshy humans need to do is give a nod of approval before resuming their pipe-smoking.
An F-15 is rocking a WWII paint job to honor a B-17 pilot who gave his life to save a wounded crewman
An F-15C Eagle is sporting a badass World War II-era paint job in honor of a fallen bomber pilot who gave everything to ensure his men survived a deadly battle.
A U.S. E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node aircraft crashed on Monday on Afghanistan, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has confirmed.
Beloved basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday. Two days earlier, Army Spc. Antonio I. Moore was killed during a vehicle rollover accident while conducting route clearing operations in Syria.
Which one more deserves your grief and mourning? According to Maj. Gen. John R. Evans, commander of the U.S. Army Cadet Command, you only have enough energy for one.
After 70 years, service members are finally filing medical malpractice claims against the US military
Jessica Purcell, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, was pregnant with her first child when she noticed a swollen lymph node in her left underarm.
Health-care providers at a MacDill Air Force Base clinic told her it was likely an infection or something related to pregnancy hormones. The following year they determined the issue had resolved itself.
It hadn't. A doctor off base found a large mass in her underarm and gave her a shocking diagnosis: stage 2 breast cancer.
Purcell was pregnant again. Her daughter had just turned 1. She was 35. And she had no right to sue for malpractice.
A 1950 Supreme Court ruling known as the Feres doctrine prohibits military members like Purcell from filing a lawsuit against the federal government for any injuries suffered while on active duty. That includes injury in combat, but also rape and medical malpractice, such as missing a cancer diagnosis.
Thanks in part to Tampa lawyer Natalie Khawam, a provision in this year's national defense budget allows those in active duty to file medical malpractice claims against the government for the first time since the Feres case.
With the Department of Defense overseeing the new claims process, the question now is how fairly and timely complaints will be judged. And whether, in the long run, this new move will help growing efforts to overturn the ruling and allow active duty members to sue like everyone else.