It's one of those things every soldier hears about and fears -- the ceramic plate in his vest has a hairline crack that can't be seen. He shakes his plate and nothing rattles around so it looks like he's safe. But there can still be a crack that can't be detected by the naked eye.
To bolster the confidence of troops in the protection they carry, the Army's PEO Soldier started screening ballistic body armor today, using a nifty piece of equipment called the Non Destructive Test Equipment (NDTE). "Soldiers will have more faith in their equipment. They'll know without a doubt that they are as safe as they can be once the plate is screened," Francis Hayden, operations chief for PEO Soldier, told me at the Association of the US Army conference today.
Basically, the NDTE is a modular and deployable X-ray machine. Soldiers being redeployed will put their ceramic plates through the system. It can screen one every 15 seconds for up to 230 plates an hour. If any hairline cracks are detected, caused either from the armor taking a hit or by the vests being dropped on the ground, then the system will automatically reject the plate and a new one will be issued to the soldier on the spot, Hayden told me.
One NDTE unit started operating today in Kuwait. Another is being tested in Huntsville, Ala. and one will head to Afghanistan soon. It can be airlifted via C-130 or towed. Eventually, the Army will deploy 11 of them in Afghanistan and Europe. The cost: a dinky $750,000 each.