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SHOOT TO PROTECT

In Iraq, American troops face no deadlier threat than rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs. Some tanks now come equipped with protective measures against the weapons. But for most soldiers, the only defense is to shoot the guy holding the RPG before he can let one off. Even so-called up-armored Humvees will shred if hit by a well-placed RPG shot. In late November, 22-year-old Army National Guard Spc. David L. Roustum was killed when an RPG slammed into his Humvee.fcs-doom16-32.jpgThe Army's Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, is one of several Defense Department groups looking for a way to give those troops in Hummers another layer of defense. TARDEC's solution: blast the RPG in midair, before it gets a chance to hit.In another few years, Hummers' roofs could be covered with a dozen tubes, each filled with a foot-long mini-rocket called the FCLAS -- short for Full Spectrum Active Protection Close-In Shield.Every FCLAS would have a pair of radio-frequency sensors inside. One in the nose would detect incoming RPGs and fire off a counterstrike. A second sensor, in the rocket's side, would go off when the RPG comes within range. The FCLAS would then detonate, letting loose a hail of explosive fragments, destroying the grenade in the process. The whole attack and response would take no more than a few seconds.The FCLAS has been tested, most recently at Camp Williams in Utah. Another trial, with multiple rockets launching at once, is scheduled for January. But it will be a while before soldiers in the field get FCLAS protection. The weapon's safety software hasn't been worked out, FCLAS project manager Steve Caito told me at the Army Science Conference. "And we have to make sure that if someone throws a rock, or a bird flies by, that it doesn't go off."More fun and games from the conference are here, in my report for Wired News.THERE'S MORE: Transparent, ceramic, and electro-magnetic armor are just a few of the new-jack shields reviewed in this month's National Defense magazine.

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