Land mines are a persistent threat for Soldiers as they face hazards from past wars as well as improvised explosive devices planted by current adversaries.
A team from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has leveraged its international reach to identify, research and test a mine-protective boot for American Soldiers. RDECOM’s International Technology Center-Latin America, or ITC, initiated the search.
Matt Davenport, a mechanical engineer with RDECOM’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, led the effort to assess a South American company’s boot.
“As opposed to us trying to draw up a new program from scratch and go through the entire process, we already have a physical product,” he said. “This is a huge time and cost-saving tool for getting capabilities to the Soldier.”
ENHANCED CAPABILITIES FOR SOLDIERS
Important factors for evaluating a mine boot are improved blast protection, minimal additional weight and size, and no degradation to a Soldier’s mobility, Davenport said.
The boot, which has been fielded in South America since 2009, demonstrates the potential to provide these capabilities, he said.
By not using any metal in the boot, it prevents secondary injury to Soldiers and avoids adding significant extra weight. In addition to blast protection, the boot uses ballistic fiber layers to provide improved fragmentation protection.
“We already have very effective mine-clearing boots for slow, unexploded ordnance procedures. They work, but they completely inhibit mobility,” said Davenport, who works for NSRDEC’s Personal Protective Equipment Team.
“There is the potential of having no tradeoff in mobility and still gaining protection for lower extremities,” he added.
Davenport said the Army would provide the boots as a specialty item when Soldiers are deployed to an area with the threat of mines.
“If we know there are undocumented mines in the area and still need to conduct a mission there, we can provide this product to mitigate the risk and magnitude of injuries, if they do occur,” he said.
RDECOM’S INTERNATIONAL NETWORK
The command’s global network of scientists and engineers, both uniformed and civilian, partner with foreign militaries, universities and industry to identify technologies to advance the U.S. Army mission, said Dr. Wei-Jen Su, director of the ITC in Argentina.
After Su learned of the boot during a cooperative visit in 2011, he met with company officials and then passed the information to RDECOM headquarters. Initial reports indicated the boot it contained protective measures not found in the standard-issue U.S. Army boots, he said.
“It’s a win-win situation for the U.S. Army and foreign partners. All will benefit from this program,” Su said.
Davenport, who was assigned to Program Executive Soldier at the time, used funding through the Army’s Foreign Comparative Testing Program, or FCT, for purchasing and testing the boots.
FCT’s mission since 1980, has been to find and evaluate solutions to meet operational needs, said William “Randy” Everett, FCT project officer at RDECOM headquarters. The RDECOM Global Technology Integration Team manages the program for the Army.
Leveraging the ITC and FCT allowed RDECOM to address this technology gap with foreign equipment already in use, Davenport said.
“We’re advancing the understanding of the state of the art, and integrating our capacities with foreign partners,” he said. “We’re moving out, not just with what we have in America, but also learning what we can gain from our allies.
“If we can pool our intellect and resources, we have an opportunity to advance at a far faster and cheaper rate than we could if we tried to stay isolated within our own country.”
RIGOROUS TESTING PROCESS
To compare the boots against U.S. military standards, RDECOM turned to the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, for extensive testing. Davenport worked with ATC engineers to design tests to fully vet the boots, incorporating blast protection, ballistics protection, and human factors.
To gain feedback during human factors evaluation, three Army National Guardsmen and three Marine Corps Reservists, with seven deployments among them, tested the boots for 20 hours over five days.
The personnel, employed by ATC as Contractors as Representative Soldiers, used a boot course, obstacle course, and military-operations-in-urban-terrain course for testing. Results were then compared with baseline testing from the standard-issue boot.
The individuals performed all Soldier functions with full mobility, Davenport said.
While testing showed that the boots are not ready for fielding at this time, the data collected will be beneficial to future research efforts, Everett said.
“The fact that the testing has been so extensive is considered a success for FCT because that accumulated data will help determine what a future requirement for a boot would be,” Everett said. “We now have critical data about anti-mine warfare with regard to footwear.”
IMPORTANCE OF PROTECTION AGAINST MINES
Davenport said the threat of landmines remains significant despite widespread explosive ordnance disposal efforts. Terrorist organizations produce homemade devices that range from small explosives to improvised explosive devices made from artillery shells.
Mines are intended to maim, not kill, and cause foot or leg amputations, Everett said.
“When you get hit with a mine, you become a casualty. It takes two people to evacuate. The enemy has effectively eliminated three people off the battlefield for a period of time,” he said. “Once you know you’re in an area with mines, it has a psychological impact. Mines are the Soldiers that never sleep.”