Darpa Armors Up

It worked for robot driving. So maybe a little competition will scare up some new ideas on how to armor up Humvees, too.Humvee_400x.jpgThat seems to be the thinking over at Pentagon fringe science arm Darpa. Its Grand Challenge -- the $25 million, all-robot race across the Mojave -- inspired some very smart people to come up with some very smart new ways for machines to manuever on their own. Along the way, the race inspired reporters to give the agency the best press its had in years.So, not surprisingly, Darpa is rolling out a second competition: the "Armor Challenge." The agency is hoping that a series of "shoot-outs" will prompt someone to figure out how to create a defensive system that's twice as light as rolled homogeneous armor steel, but still just as good at stopping 7.62mm and .50 cal rounds.

Proposers should expect to deliver three (3) eighteen inch (18 in.) by eighteen inch (18 in.) panels for each threat to be addressed. It is acceptable to propose a different panel configuration or weight to address each threat, but armor systems that can provide protection against the range of threats using a single configuration will be evaluated more favorably...Armor Challenge shoot-outs will take place periodically (approximately quarterly) throughout the program... After the shoot-out, the team's performance will be evaluated in two areas: 1) potential for reducing armor weight as determined by appropriate metrics, and 2) the expected cost of the armor in production quantities.
Maybe one day, the government hopes, the software and engineering behind the Grand Challenge can be used to create robotic trucks, so flesh-and-blood convoy drivers can be kept out of harm's way. The Armor Challenge, on the other hand, is meant for more pressing needs. Insurgents are getting increasingly wise about tearing through American armor. That problem could be compunded in the coming years, as the Army moves to vehicles that are much, much lighter than the current crop. The replacement for the 70-ton Abrams tank, for example, is supposed to weigh in at only 24 tons. And a big chunk of that weight reduction is supposed to come with lighter, tougher armor.
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