• Army researchers inspire commercial rifle fire control systems

    Shown is the precision-guided firearm. (Photo courtesy of TrackingPoint)

    By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Jan. 28, 2014) — Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory go about their business every day working on projects to help better serve the military and its members who protect our country. Sometimes the research inspires commercial companies to do additional research and expand on certain aspects to develop products of their own.

    That is what happened with ARL’s research called “Inertial Reticle Technology” where researchers who were then in the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate developed a concept to apply advanced fire control technology to sniper weapons.

    As a result of this concept, a modern fire control system for rifles was developed by a Texas-based company, which later partnered with another prominent gun manufacturer. Their partnership allowed for the development of a new shooting system, which they claim may just revolutionize how targets are acquired. It is called the precision guided firearm.

    According to an article in American Rifleman, dated Dec. 17, 2013, a new integrated rifle and sighting system was introduced in January 2013, in which a video screen scope with an internal laser rangefinder to measure the distance to the target and, using the latest in digital technology, factors in temperature, barometric pressure, incline/decline, cant, air density, spin drift, target movement and effect drift.

    Raymond Von Wahlde, aerospace engineer, Vehicle Technology Directorate, learned about this discovery through his former colleagues Lucian Sadowski and Dr. Stephen Small both from Joint Service Small Arms Program who managed a project in the 1990′s known as, “Project White Feather.”

    Dr. Small named the project as a tribute to famed sniper Gunnery Sgt. Carlos N. Hathcock II, also known as “White Feather.” Von Wahlde found that the new rifle was very similar to the technology he had coauthored a white paper on with Dennis Metz from EAI Corporation in August 1999, titled “Sniper Weapon Fire Control Error Budget Analysis,” data from which was included on the company’s website.

    Shown is the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Inertial Reticle Technology prototype.

    Von Wahlde contacted the company to see if those who developed their precision-guided firearms were aware of the SOCOM-sponsored project known as “Project White Feather.”

    Von Wahlde said in his message, “…we called it the ‘Inertial Reticle.’ It was the brain child of Dr. Mark Kregel. Might the precision guided firearm trace its ancestry back at least in part to ‘Project White Feather?’”

    Von Wahlde went on to say, “Your videos look remarkably like ours did back in the day. I am impressed with your implementation. We utilized actual inertial sensors on the weapon to stabilize the desired aim point. I like your image processing method for doing so. Your solution to trigger pull is elegant. We replaced the trigger with a switch that armed the system. A solenoid actually pulled the trigger. That was one of the least liked features of our prototype by the users. Adjusting the trigger force is brilliant.”

    Within a couple of days, Von Wahlde received a message back from the company.

    “Thank you very much for your email. I appreciate your work — Project White Feather continues to be the best compilation and serious study of sniper performance data that I am aware of. We make everyone on the team read it. Thanks for your interest, would love to show you the system sometime,” said Bret Boyd, vice president of sales and marketing, TrackingPoint.

    Von Wahlde who was project engineer for much of the testing said he gives a lot of credit to his former colleagues.

    “The technology was the brain child of Dr. Mark Kregel (now retired) and along with Tom Haug (also retired) and Tim Brosseau from WMRD, they constructed the prototype systems for the IRT (Inertial Reticle Technology),” said Von Wahlde. “I am honored to be part of a team that served as an inspiration for these systems.”


    • ARL is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

      RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

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  • In Hard Truth, New Opportunity

    Soldiers assigned to 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment (6-4 CAV), 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division launch a mortar Nov. 10, 2013, in Baghlan province, Afghanistan, during a training exercise. Even as fiscal and economic conditions change, the Army remains committed to providing the best equipment to the warfighter at the best value for the taxpayer. (Photo by 1st Lt. Cory Titus, 6-4 CAV)

    Changing times call for Army and industrial base to collaborate on solutions


    From The Army Acquisition Executive
    The Honorable Heidi Shyu


    As we enter a new calendar year, the Army faces challenges of an evolving fiscal reality and the transition from wartime production to peacetime requirements. The Army and its industrial base must work together to address these issues head-on. The hard truth—sustaining readiness in this fiscally constrained environment—necessarily means fewer investments in the future. Budget uncertainty complicates the procurement landscape, but communication and cooperation will allow the Army and industrial base to meet our respective goals.

    Although the organic and commercial industrial base sectors are often discussed as distinct communities, public-private partnership at Army depots and essential facilities is a potential core strategy to ensure that parts and materials are available to sustain platforms and equipment at appropriate readiness levels.

    Defense spending is projected to make up only 12 percent of the federal budget in FY17, down from 17 percent in FY13. Those numbers are a world away from the 49 percent of the federal budget consumed by defense during the 1960s. At the same time, the budget for research, development and acquisition (RDA) is declining faster than the overall defense budget.

    Dr. Grace Metcalfe, a researcher at the Adelphi Laboratory Center of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), is part of the Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate team that developed and successfully tested new ways of generating terahertz emissions, work that has potential biomedical and security applications. The RDA budget is declining faster than the overall defense budget, with implications for the Army’s investments in emerging technologies to develop next-generation capabilities. (Photo by Doug LaFon, ARL)

    Nothing highlights this more concretely than the Army’s total obligation authority (TOA) for FY14, which, at $129.7 billion, is 15 percent lower than the FY12 Army TOA of $152.6 billion. Compare this to the FY14 Army RDA budget of $23.95 billion, which is down an amazing 28 percent from the FY12 RDA budget of $33.2 billion. A Nov 28, 2013, article in The Washington Post profiled members of the West Point Class of 2014 and gave a compelling description of the challenge. A 22-year-old cadet wisely noted that the key question is not how to do more with less, but how to determine “what we’re going to do and what we’re going to do well.” In other words: What’s going to be good enough?

    Procurement budgets naturally contract after a war. The end of the Cold War saw a wave of consolidation, mergers and acquisitions in the commercial base. Although industry consolidation reduced duplication and redundancy, it also resulted in many of today’s critical defense assets being manufactured by only a limited number of firms. As the U.S. manufacturing sector has decreased overall, defense manufacturing has taken on a greater significance for remaining firms. But while there are fewer large players than in previous drawdowns, there has been a proliferation of small businesses working as subcontractors—providing engineering services, doing research and development, and manufacturing specialized components.

    Today’s industrial base includes a large population of highly skilled technical and knowledge workers, many of them employed by specialized third- and fourth-tier subcontractors. Keeping these skilled employees within the industrial base has the added benefit of enhancing support for the Army’s small business partners. The rapid decline in our RDA budget creates significant challenges for small companies that must diversify quickly, but the Army has met its 25 percent small business goal for the past three years. This helps small businesses continue to innovate and deliver products and services to our warfighters.

    Undersecretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal, left, talks with retired Lt. Col. David Viens of iRobot Corp. Oct. 22, 2013, at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.. As the Army assesses and identifies capabilities and competencies, the commercial industrial base is a vital stakeholder. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)

    It is just as important to note the opportunities created by the coming drawdown. The Army and industry can begin a new level of dialogue around modernization, which technologies best meet national security needs and how to integrate new technologies into existing infrastructure. Although the organic and commercial industrial base sectors are often discussed as distinct communities, public-private partnership at Army depots and essential facilities is a potential core strategy to ensure that parts and materials are available to sustain platforms and equipment at appropriate readiness levels.

    As the Army assesses and identifies capabilities and competencies at its depots and arsenals, the commercial base is a vital stakeholder. The commercial base, in particular, is well-positioned to help the Army better use commercial off-the-shelf products and production techniques that can yield new efficiencies and increase the buying power of the defense dollar.

    Consider an example from Program Executive Office Ammunition: Staff implemented a long-term strategy for recurring procurement of artillery and mortar components. A $2.7 billion small business set-aside strategy eliminated the need for more than 100 separate market surveys, synopses and requests for proposals, and reduced average delivery time from 18-24 months to 45-60 days. This efficient new procurement strategy will help the Army avoid $60 million in costs while supporting small business.

    CH-47 Chinook helicopters of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) await their next mission at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 11, 2013. The CH-47 Chinook MYP has saved taxpayers nearly $500 million while reducing financial uncertainty for industry. (U.S. Army photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot, 10th CAB)

    Multiyear procurement (MYP) is another proven strategy for lowering cost to the taxpayer while reducing financial uncertainty for industry. The CH-47 Chinook MYP has saved taxpayers nearly $500 million to date while enhancing the environment for sharing lessons learned between the Army and industry, and incentivizing quality assurance.

    As President Ronald Reagan observed, “no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.” We remain committed to providing the best equipment to the warfighter at the best value for the taxpayer. Painful choices will have to be made on force structure, readiness and modernization. The Army’s desired end goal is to meet the nation’s and world’s security needs while we invest in emerging technologies to develop the next generation of capabilities.





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  • Army fuel reformation looks to increase efficiency, save lives

    RDECOM CERDEC hosts defense partners for a demo of the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell 10 kW power unit. It exhibits high efficiency, a low acoustic signature, a low visible signature, and weighs less than the Army’s current 10 kW Tactical Quiet Generator Set. (U.S. Army CERDEC Photo/ Allison Barrow)

    By Allison Barrow and Joyce Brayboy


    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Fuel is the second largest transported item in the field next to water. As a result, fuel truck convoys that deliver fuel are vulnerable to enemy attacks, which have resulted in loss of money, time and lives.

    To combat this problem, scientists and engineers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command are working to lessen the reliance on fuel truck convoys by reducing the amount of military fuel, called jet propellant 8, or JP-8, the Army needs in theater and improving the efficiency of its use.

    One way they are doing this is through reforming JP-8 so that it can be used in efficient portable energy systems, like fuel cells and other novel power sources, which primarily operate on hydrogen or other cleaner fuels.

    “The goal is to take the logistic fuel that’s already all over the battlefield, that’s there and available to the Soldiers, and convert it to something that can be used in smaller and renewable systems,” said Steve Slane, RDECOM’s communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, Command, Power and Integration (CP&I) Directorate, Power Generation and Alternative Energy Branch chief.

    Engineers and scientists from CERDEC, along with RDECOM’s Army Research Laboratory and Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center are working to reform JP-8 and integrate it into systems so it can be converted seamlessly and locally.

    “Fuel reforming is one of those leap-ahead technologies that could allow JP-8 to be transformed into valuable fuels that can be used and generated on the battlefield forward. So instead of shipping propane and methanol and kerosene and gasoline, why not reform JP-8 locally to power those systems?” said Slane.

    The process of reforming fuel entails high-temperature catalytic reactions that covert a liquid fuel, in this case JP-8, into a lighter, gaseous fuel.

    Dr. Dat Tran, U.S. Army Research Laboratory electro-chemistry, is focused on extracting sulfur from JP8, or Jet Propellant 8, a fuel widely used in the Army. (U.S. Army ARL Photo/Joyce P. Brayboy)

    This comes with two main challenges because of the sulfur contained in JP-8 and its complex composition, said Dr. Terry DuBois, subject matter expert in fuel reforming and combustion in CERDEC CP&I’s Power Division.

    First, sulfur can deactivate catalysts, which means it can limit the life or poison catalysts during the reforming process and make it inoperable. Second, sulfur can accelerate carbon formation, where solid carbon particles form in the reactor, clog the flow of the reactor or deactivate catalysts and cause it to fail, said DuBois.
    “Those are two big challenges for us in reforming; how do we transform JP-8 to a hydrogen-rich stream and deal with the two mechanisms for killing the reactor?” said DuBois.

    This fuel transformation effort is a main focus for CERDEC, TARDEC and ARL.

    The challenge is developing a practical fuel reformation process for better energy conversion that would have to be portable, quick and easy to use, said Dr. Zachary Dunbar, an ARL fuel cell team member.

    Dr. Dat Tran, ARL fuel cell team lead, has tested at least 300 different combinations of materials during the last four years while he has been investigating fuel reforming with the team, he said.

    “JP-8 is a complicated and dirty fuel. The sulfur is a huge problem because it can hurt the fuel cells,” Tran said. “Sulfur has many different compounds that behave differently. The compounds in sulfur make it hard to find an agreeable material.”

    While ARL conducts the basic research of fuel reforming, CERDEC integrates the basic research into a system and evaluates it, while also performing further research and development of fuel reforming materials.

    The Reformer Test Bed is used for catalyst and process condition evaluation of fuel reformers. (U.S. Army CERDEC Photo)

    “Both of the efforts that we have ongoing are focused on addressing desulfurization of JP-8, and ARL is pursuing complimentary R&D on unique materials for sulfur absorption. In addition, ARL is looking at membranes that can selectively separate hydrogen from the gaseous reformed fuel stream so that you have a pure hydrogen stream,” said DuBois.

    “CERDEC’s in-house program is looking at catalytic materials. So we have ongoing research work evaluating different catalytic materials and how well they stand up to chemical compounds found in JP-8. We are also evaluating sulfur absorbent materials and processes on a long-term basis,” said DuBois.

    TARDEC also works in fuel reforming by integrating it into fuel cell power systems.

    “The main applications are combat and tactical vehicle Auxiliary Power Units, silent propulsion for unmanned ground systems and extending the silent range of electric vehicles for scout or reconnaissance missions,” said Kevin Centeck, TARDEC Nonprimary Power Systems team lead.

    “TARDEC is also investigating the requirements for a fuel reformation system to be integrated with a commercial automotive fuel cell stack, which could help reduce cost and increase reliability of fuel cell power systems,” said Centeck.

    CERDEC, ARL and TARDEC collaborate on their fuel reforming efforts for the Army through fuel cell test and integration working groups with other Defense Department partners through quarterly program and design reviews.

    CERDEC is taking fuel reforming one step further by working to integrate its efforts into its Energy Informed Operations, or EIO, initiative, which aims to make power systems “smart” by enabling “smarter” monitoring on the systems as well as integrating them into a smart tactical microgrid.

    This smart technology will enable and inform Soldiers with data such as, “How much fuel do I have left? When are the fuel trucks coming next? What’s my energy status?” said Slane.

    “The efficiencies gained by using grid data to control power and inform operations will increase availability and reliability of power while reducing the burden of fuel logistics, storage and cost,” said Slane. “CERDEC CP&I is uniquely qualified to cover all this because we have our mechanical engineers who are working fuel reformation and combustion but we also have engineers within the mission command community here working on intelligent micro-grids through EIO.”

    RDECOM will continue to work to address the challenges with fuel reforming and integrate it into a full power system that can then be transitioned to the field.

    “Reducing the amount of fuel is really a goal of what this organization is about,” said Slane. “Fuel reforming is one of the key technology areas that will enable us to reduce fuel on the battlefield, reduce the amount of truck convoys, the amount of storage needed and the cost of operating in austere environments.”

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  • Army researchers build portable “fake pot” detector prototype to curb Soldier designer drug abuse

    Dr. Mark Griep, center, is a materials engineer of the Composite and Hybrid Materials Branch in ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate. His current research efforts are focused on structure property relationships and application concepts of carbon nano-structures, hybrid nano-bio materials, and energy harvesting materials and phenomena.

    By T’Jae Gibson, Army Research Laboratory,
    Public Affairs Office


    Army researchers are building a portable drug detector that, soon, could help military and civil law enforcement agencies throughout the country more quickly catch synthetic drug abuse.

    The Army Research Laboratory’s prototype biosensor model is expected to directly detect the active chemical substitutes that help “fake pot” fade from notice in commercially available synthetic cannabinoid detectors. It would be the first field-ready test on the market.

    In 2012, the Army Criminal Investigation Command conducted 1,675 investigations involving Soldiers and spice, bath salts, or other synthetic drugs, according to a May 2013 Army Times article.

    ARL is collaborating with ACIL on this work, as synthetic cannabinoids are a rising threat that burdens their case-load. Currently there are no fieldable detection systems to perform analysis on the spot and tests are sent back to ACIL for evaluation. ARL is attempting to build a sensor that is not only portable, but can detect an ever-changing culprit.

    “Garage chemists” sneak their concoctions of chemically laced kitchen herbs past detectors law enforcement use today, because those biosensors are designed to find a specific molecule. “But there are hundreds of synthetic cannabinoid variants, so a sensor that detects one specific synthetic cannabinoid that is seen on Spice or K2 would be quickly outdated as these types change regularly,” said Dr. Mark Griep, principal scientist on the project, who works in the Composite and Hybrid Materials Branch in ARL’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.

    Synthetic marijuana first appeared in Europe in 2004 as ''herbal incense''. (Photo Courtesy of the DEA)

    Griep joined with Dr. Shashi Karna, an Army senior research scientist and noted international expert in nanotechnology, to form a team of government and academic scientific investigators in building a detector that “will be able to detect the whole “class” of chemicals that have an affinity for the cannabinoid receptors in the brain,” Griep said. These are the receptors that are targeted by the drug and induce its effects. “Therefore, even if entirely new synthetic cannabinoid molecules are created, they are created to activate these receptors, so our sensor will be sensitive to them.”

    This work builds upon the fundamental bio-nano science conducted at ARL and the Michigan Technological University in 2008, where a joint team of military and university researchers developed a unique opto-electronic hybrid system based on the integration of quantum dots with the highly functional protein bacteriorhodopsin, and revealed the fundamental science and mechanisms behind their interactions.

    Based on this hybrid bio-nanomaterial, researchers were able to patent a system they developed that could selectively target a material, and when that target binds to the sensor it induces a change in the proteins electrical output.

    With this understanding of the materials, ARL was able to develop a unique sensing platform that is amenable to functionalization towards a wide variety of airborne or liquid targets. The base platform is very generic and could be tailored it to a multitude of sensing needs, explained Griep.

    Dr. Abby West leads the design and optimization of the ligand/dark quencher system. This is the component that sets the threshold of detection and ultimately the activation of the sensor when displaced. Control of this material allows us to detect any synthetic cannabinoid that bind more strongly to the receptor.

    “Although this bio-nano sensing platform wasn’t developed with drug sensing in mind, this program leverages our bio-nano sensor expertise towards a specific drug testing problem. The fact that our sensor platform has the potential to be small, lightweight, user-friendly, and fieldable in addition to being generic enough to be tailored towards synthetic cannabinoid detections made it a unique fit to fill this specific drug detection need,” Griep said.

    Synthetic marijuana arose from the “unfortunate manipulation of science far outside the intended purpose” to study the effects of cannabinoids on brain functioning and their efficacy in treating pain, Griep said. Several cannabinoid compounds were created to help advance the treatment of serious ailments like multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and cancer.

    The protocols of basic science to communicate findings in open literature, namely the “Materials and Methods” section, “became a shopping list and recipe for garage chemists with ambitions straight out of AMC TV’s Breaking Bad. They laced natural herbs with these molecules and advertised the product as a legal alternative to pot, with the further come-on that this substitute could not be detected in drug tests. At the same time, a warning label said the item was not for human consumption as a way to skirt watchdogs like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” said Griep, who first created new biosensor platforms for a DARPA-funded project in 2008.

    Dr. Michael Sellers is the co-principal investigator on this work at ARL. He leads the computational simulation support. The biomolecular simulation that Sellers provides is key to guiding the experimental design and ensuring all the synthesized materials interact properly with the natural receptors.

    He is tailoring bio-nanosensing platforms he created to build the synthetic cannabinoid detection platform. His research team at Michigan Technological University and ARL won the Paul A. Siple award for their efforts in Bio-Nanoelectronics at the Army Science Conference in 2010.

    Griep said traditional drug-focused sensors are focused on two aspects. Finding the synthetic cannabinoids before use, which is what the ARL model is being designed to do, and detecting the drugs after use and after they have been processed in the body, which is when urine and hair analyses come into play.

    “Although detecting the drug after it’s in the body is standard for normal marijuana and THC [tetrahydrocannabinol ] metabolites, it is hard to implement for synthetic cannabinoids since a lot of research is required to find out how each specific chemical is processed in the body. This is has been figured out for a few synthetic cannabinoids, but the problem comes back to the hundreds of variants of these synthetics. A new test would need to be developed for each variant,” Griep said.

    There is plenty of research available that gives a sense for the complexity of the “system to process chemicals in your body. So even if there’s a single atom or bond change in the material, the entire pathway could change. Thus, the end product, or what ends up in your hair or urine, could be greatly different. Every synthetic cannabinoid has a different structure or functional group arrangement, so it will be processed differently in the body,” Griep explained.

    DEA-Bath Salts (Photo Courtesy of the DEA)

    The Department of the Army banned the use of synthetic marijuana for Soldiers in 2011. Earlier this month, the Department of Defense approved the addition of synthetic cannabinoids to the approved random testing panel within the next ninety days, said Buddy Horne, drug testing manager for the Army Substance Abuse Program.

    Synthetic cannabinoids are substances chemically produced to mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. When smoked or ingested, they can produce psychoactive effects similar to those of marijuana and have been reportedly linked to heart attacks, seizures and hallucinations. Some abusers reported marijuana-consistent effects such as sleepiness, relaxation and reduced blood pressure, but others have reported symptoms not common with marijuana abuse such as nausea, increased agitation, elevated blood pressure and racing heart rates.

    The Michigan Technological University expects to deliver to the Army a unit to house ARL’s biosensor technology in December.

    ARL expects to deliver a functional prototype ACIL by the end of 2014, but until then, Army researchers will work with collaborators from the National Institutes of Health, ACIL and the DEA to test its efficacy using real-world synthetic cannabinoid samples.

    If it works well, Griep said, this device could quickly roll out to military police and civilian law enforcement agencies around the country.

    ACIL is responsible for all the forensic investigation work within the DoD. In the case of synthetic cannabinoids, whenever the military police comes across a suspicious sample or there is a synthetic drug case involving military personnel during an investigation, the contents of the sample must be evaluated and proven at ACIL.

    “Since there aren’t any field tests, all the characterization and analysis is done at ACIL. There are a tremendous amount of potential synthetic cannabinoid related cases, so there’s quite a workload of samples arriving at ACIL,” said Griep.

    “If there was a good field-able sensor – our work’s goal – capable of allowing law enforcement to determine if the suspicious package contained synthetic cannabinoids or not, then the ACIL workload would be cut down since only samples that actually contain synthetic cannabinoids would be sent back for analysis.”

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  • ARL, Purdue research of 3-D printing to fix damaged on-the-spot in combat zones, cut maintenance cos

    ARL: Topological Interlocking Structures

    By T’Jae Gibson,
    Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs


    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — New technology being developed by research engineers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Purdue University will soon help just about any Soldier deployed in far-off locations to immediately spot and fix damaged aircraft and ground vehicle parts.

    Researchers found that combining the general purpose, finite-element analysis software ABAQUS with Python, an open-source code used to optimize logical structures such as topologically interlocked structures, improves energy absorption and dissipation, productivity and lower maintenance costs.

    The combination of ABAQUS and Python provides an automated process for auto-generation of the geometries, models, materials assignments and code execution, said Ed Habtour, a research engineer with ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

    He said the code is developed to assist designers with tools to model the new generation of 3-D additive manufactured and TISs structures.

    “The benefit for the Soldier is an after-effect. The TIS would provide an excellent energy absorption and dissipation mechanism for future vehicles using additive manufacturing, Habtour said. “Subsequently, the Soldier can print these structures in the field using additive manufacturing by simply downloading the model generated by the designer/vendor.”

    The research team developed logical structures from the mini-composition of tetrahedron-shaped cells in existing materials, an approach ARL research engineers say is a vast departure from the military’s tendency to build new materials to meet existing problems.

    “Traditionally, every time the U.S. Army encounters a problem in the field the default has been to develop new and exotic materials. Using logical structures can be effective in solving some critical and challenging problems, like the costly and time-consuming certification process that all new materials must face,” Habtour said.

    This logical structure is based on principles of segmentation and assembly, where the structure is segmented into independent unit elements then reconfigured/assembled logically and interlocked in an optimal orientation to enhance the overall properties of the structure, Habtour explained.

    The researchers are focusing on topologically interlocked structures using VTD’s 3-D additive manufacturing approach to build 2-D and 3-D structures based on cells in the shape of Platonic solids.

    Habtour said new structures created from this process are designed to be adaptive and configurable to the harsh conditions like random and harmonic vibrations, thermal loads, repetitive shocks due to road bumps, crash and acoustic attenuation. An added bonus he said is that these structures are configured to prevent crack propagation.

    “Sometime in the near future, Soldiers would be able to fabricate and repair these segmented structures very easily in the front lines or Forward Operating Bases, so instead of moving damaged ground or air vehicles to a main base camp for repair, an in-field repair approach would essentially mean vehicles would be fixed and accessible to warfighters much faster at lower costs,” said Habtour. “We want to change the conventional thinking by taking advantage of exciting materials and manipulating the structure based on the principle of segmentation and assembly.”

    ARL is working closely with project managers at The U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center. Discussions are already underway to transition this work to AMRDEC and Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center developmental programs.

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  • Collaboration leads to new rocket propulsion technology

    A team of Army researchers developed a new gel-propellant engine called the vortex engine. (Photo Credit: AMRDEC)

    By Tracie Dean, U.S. Army Research Laboratory


    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Aug. 5, 2013) — A team of Army researchers developed a new gel-propellant engine called the vortex engine.

    Michael Nusca, Ph.D., Robert Michaels and Nathan Mathis were recently recognized by the Department of the Army with a 2012 Army Research and Development Outstanding Collaboration Award, or RDA, for their work titled, “Use of Computational Fluid Dynamics in the Development and Testing of Controllable Thrust Gel Bipropellant Rocket Engines for Tactical Missiles.”

    Nusca, a researcher in Army Research Laboratory, or ARL’s, Propulsion Science Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground, explained the new technology.

    “Gelled, hypergolic propellants are swirled with the combustion chamber to promote mixing and combustion,” Nusca said. “Traditionally, Army missiles used on the battlefield utilize solid propellant in the rocket engine. These engines require an ignition source and once initiated cannot be throttled without special hardware, both of which add weight to the engine. Liquid hypergolic propellants ignite on contact without an igniter and the engine can be throttled by regulating the propellant flow. In addition, if the propellants are gelled, the storage tanks have been shown to be insensitive to attack, unlike liquids that can explode when the container is punctured.”

    This new engine was developed with Michaels and Mathis, both researchers at the Aviation Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, which is one of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s, or AMRDEC, elements located at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

    “At AMRDEC, the propellants, injection systems and engines were developed and test fired, while at ARL the physics of propellant injection, combustion and engine operation were modeled using supercomputers,” Nusca said. This modeling included both current engine and fuel designs as well as proposals for design alternatives aimed at enhanced performance. The synergism of research between the two labs proved the technology worked according to design.”

    “This award recognized the cooperative effort between the ARL-WMRD, or Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, and the AMRDEC-WDI, or Weapons Development and Integration, in maturing a new rocket engine technology for Army tactical missiles.”

    Commenting on the impact this body of work could have on the operational Army, Nusca said, “This technology has the potential for game-changing impacts on the future of small, selectable thrust rocket engines for Army tactical missiles, as the main propulsion system, as well as strategic missiles as a course correction system. AMRDEC and the Program Executive Officer for Missiles and Space have direct uses for this technology.”

    The primary use and application of this technology has been on the battlefield.

    “Eventually the Soldier will have access to a tactical missile on the battlefield that can be used for a variety of missions due to the selectable thrust capability,” Nusca said.

    Nusca believes this technology has other applications that will also produce significant results for missile systems.

    “The next step for this type of technology would be a full-scale flight test of the vortex engine at AMRDEC for a particular missile system. This test would extend the successful engine test-stand firings and computer modeling and demonstrate increased missile range and thrust modulation in flight,” Nusca said.

    The RDA awards recognize outstanding scientific and engineering achievements and technical leadership throughout the Army’s commands, laboratories, and research, development and engineering centers.

    Nusca was thrilled to have received the recognition by the Army for the team’s work.

    “Receiving this RDA for cooperation makes me feel proud to be a part of ARL and AMRDEC efforts to produce basic and applied research that is increasingly relevant to the Soldier to whom we owe the best battlefield technology that we develop,” Nusca said.

    • ARL is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

      RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, or AMC. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness, technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment, to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC delivers it.

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  • Beyond protection: Army Research Laboratory investigates next-level pelvic, groin protection

    The BCB Protective Under Garment shown here on a mannequin is one of the pelvic protection systems developed by Program Executive Office Soldier. (Photo courtesy of PEO Soldier)

    T’Jae Gibson


    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD. (Nov. 14, 2012) — New ballistic research areas are filling a critical gap in troop pelvic protection systems, said U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) engineers.

    No standard scientific methodology currently exists to assess the performance of personal protection equipment (PPE) against secondary debris, such as flying rocks, and bomb fragments ejected after a buried improvised explosive device (IED) detonates, said Tyrone Jones, a mechanical engineer in ARL’s, Weapons and Materials Research Directorate (WMRD).

    ARL teamed with the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Joint IED Defeat Organization and the British Ministry of Defence to provide the Army with a technical tool to evaluate the PPE against this spectrum of threats.

    “Fundamentally, our role in this is to understand the underpinning science and technology of the threat itself, how explosive charges interact with the soil then with the target, but also the fundamental mechanical properties of the materials that are acquired to stop these threats.”

    In 2010, ARL began developing a novel lab scale test methodology to reproduce the soil conditions from buried IEDs, and then consistently launch the surrogate soils via a sabot from a medium-caliber smooth-bore gun, called the sand cannon.

    The test methodology quantifies the debris-resistant performance of various fabrics such as Kevlar and jersey-knitted silk, to be integrated into current PPE within a highly controlled environment. From here, Jones said, researchers can understand and readily identify the penetration mechanisms of the secondary debris into a prospect material.

    ARL tested candidate materials provided by NSRDC leading to an improvement in the “ballistic boxer shorts” the military fielded last summer under its formal name, the Pelvic Protection System, as a response to the growing number of Soldiers on foot patrol sustaining injuries to the groin caused by IED blasts, and secondary debris. As of March 2012, more than 15,000 Soldiers had received the Army’s Pelvic Protection System.

    The previous pelvic protection system was designed to protect against numerous and obvious Soldier threats, including small arms fire, thermal and environmental, but much of it can’t fully stand up against the tiniest of culprits — soil particulate and small debris — that en masse, can cause irreversible medical damage to soft tissue to include internal bleeding.

    “Wound management is a critical part of medical care for dismounted Soldiers that are injured by buried IEDs,” said Jones. “Secondary debris, including soil ejecta, from buried explosive devices can lead to severe contamination and debridement issues for wounds and adds to the complexity of the first response care of stabilizing the primary wound.”

    Col. James Jezior, Chief of Urology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda said it’s not too difficult to tell the difference between a blast injury and a high velocity or gunshot wound type injury.

    “The patterns of injury are much different between the two,” Jezior said. “Whether we see the fragments from the actual armament or whether there is secondary debris from things around or from the vehicle or from clothes, I don’t think that’s quite as easy to tell. It’s probably in many of the cases a mixture of those things that are eventually embedded in tissue or are part of the injury mechanism.”

    Dismounted Soldiers on patrol in Logar province, Afghanistan, shown here, are more vulnerable to buried improvised explosive devices. (Photo by Spc. Richard Jones)

    Secondary debris testing involves complete analysis of live-fire blast data and soil mechanics, in addition to knowledge and experience in ballistics.

    “ARL is the world leader in the characterization of blast, soil effects and terminal ballistic effects caused by fragments and secondary debris,” Jones said. “With this fundamental understanding, ARL is able to design repeatable methods and procedures to simulate these blast conditions in order to develop protection solutions.”

    From the science, ARL is able to identify the relevant dynamic soil components and variables that inflict the damage on target during live-fire blast testing, and translate these components and variables into a debris simulant that can be consistently reproduced in a laboratory environment.

    Typical sand-cannon tests involve a 25.4mm smooth-bore barrel gun firing “surrogate” soil load into a ballistic gelatin block designed to represent a body surrogate. Candidate materials were placed in front of the gelatin block. The soil “cloud” travels through the material and into the gelatin block. The amount of soil retained by the gelatin block and the depth of penetration into gelatin block gives a measure of insult, or damage the secondary debris can cause.

    “Bulk aggregate presents a very different threat than a discrete fragment or rock,” said Jones. “We are investigating how this threat interacts with a spectrum of materials, focusing on personal protective equipment and clothing so that revolutionary protective material breakthroughs can be achieved.”

    Jones said surrogate soil is actually a 36-grit garnet abrasive blasting particulate selected because of its consistency of grain size and distribution, lack of moisture variability, individual grain hardness, availability in bulk, and easily obtainable specification.

    “We use a high speed Phantom v7.1 video camera to capture the dynamic elements such as grit cloud flyer diameter and length, velocity and depth of penetration into the gelatin up to 160,000 frames per second. The high speed video camera captures the launch and penetration process in slow motion, measuring test variables and detailing revealing dynamic mechanism and verifying consistency in our test execution. Finally, the use of powerful three-dimensional microscopes can be used to analyze the architecture of the protective materials before and after impact, to aid in understanding the terminal ballistic effects of the interaction,” said Jones, who received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and a Master of Science in Acoustics Engineering from Pennsylvania State University.

    “ARL is the world leader in the characterization of blast, soil effects and terminal ballistic effects caused by fragments and secondary debris.”

    Integration, Teamwork Strengthen Research
    Just as ARL began developing this methodology, the British Ministry of Defense began deploying pelvic protection for its Soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, with the aim of reducing the number and extent of injuries from secondary blast. Dr. Mike Dalzell began a two-year ESEP exchange program with the ARL on the heels of previous assignments with the U.K.’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory where he investigated Soldier protection solutions against blast and fragmentation.

    “Fundamentally, our role in this is to understand the underpinning science and technology of the threat itself, how explosive charges interact with the soil then with the target, but also the fundamental mechanical properties of the materials that are acquired to stop these threats,” Dalzell said. “Secondary to that of course, we also have to understand the properties in the materials that are necessary to ensure the Soldier is not excessively burdened by wearing the protective technologies, so we’re interested in, for example, comfort, thermal burden, flexibility and so on.”

    This methodology would eventually provide PEO Soldier with an evaluation tool used to understand how materials perform against a range of threats, and provide measurable insight on other important material factors such as breathability, thermal resistance and comfort that affect the Soldier’s ability to function and execute their mission.

    This information would be used to assist the material community in the development of new materials that provide better protection at less weight, and it can be used to develop techniques and procedures that provide Soldiers with methods to increase survivability.

    The methodology has already been provided to the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center with an initial screening of candidate protective materials for potential incorporation into Army Combat Uniform pants. This methodology would support ongoing evaluations within the Army and Defense Department to determine which materials provide the most protection, while minimizing weight and bulk.

    Dalzell said working with ARL presented “an opportunity there to get some collaboration between the U.K. and the U.S. on the particular subject. So I worked with the division and branch chiefs in WMRD to see if we could put together a program to support the U.S. Army’s own efforts developing pelvic protection for their own Soldiers.”

    He said he’ll take some of the different and unique techniques learned in ARL back with him to apply on U.K. research projects.

    “It’s been really great to work with ARL, especially within WMRD, with the shear breadth and depth of the scientists working there. I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a whole range of testing with a multitude of experts here to really get a different perspective on the problem. I think it’s important as scientists and engineers, we sometimes tend to look at things from our perspective but to get a different perspective from my colleagues here in the U.S. has been really worthwhile.”


    • T’Jae Gibson is with ARL Public Affairs.

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