The Rhine Ordnance Barracks of 21st Theater Sustainment Command in Germany has received a new armor inspection system to inspect ballistic plates for deploying soldiers, the Army announced. It becomes the first armor inspection system to be established outside the U.S.
It is doubtful anyone would argue the need for inspected, readily available armor plates (certainly not Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Dempsey, picture above) for deploying personnel. Nor could anyone argue the logistical advantages of inspecting the armor closer to operational areas than another continent, in another hemisphere. However, describing the system as new is a bit of a misnomer. If you begin with the first deployed prototype, the system is at least five years old.
Ensuring the integrity of armor plates like the Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) and the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert (E-SAPI), falls within the purview of the Quality Engineering and System Assurance (QE&SA) Directorate of the US Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinney Arsenal. QE&SA was actually contacted by the Project Manager for Soldier Survivability back in 2005 about developing what was to be become the Armor Inspection System.
SAPI plates, manufactured from a combination of ceramic and Kevlar, absorb kinetic energy from the strike of a projectile. Though the plates are effective, they are brittle and rigid. A projectile strike -- or other hit, including a drop on a hard surface or low velocity impact encountered during shipping -- can flaw or crack the plate, which degrades its ballistic integrity. QE&SA's Non-Destructive Evaluation personnel determined that an X-ray inspection process could determine if a plate was fractured or flawed without risking any additional damage to the plate. The AIS prototype was developed over the course of 14 months and a prototype deployed to Kuwait in 2008.
"[The AIS prototype] performed admirably," advised QE&SA's chief scientist for Non-Destructive Evaluation, Lawrence J. D'Aries. "Further improvements in the hardware and software over the next few years resulted in the current ownership and deployment of a soon-to-be total of 18 AIS systems by the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy."
As of January of this year, the intention was to deploy the AIS to five OCONUS and multiple CONUS locations. Deployability has been a mandatory attribute since the projects early days. For instance, according to this market survey from June of 2007, the desired X-ray based "automated small arms protective body armor inspection system" was to be built to withstand an air drop.
The closer an AIS is to where the plates are to be issued, the better it is for deployed personnel and the more efficient this part of the 'tail' end of tooth-to-tail supply line becomes. For instance, prior to the arrival of AIS to the Rhine Ordnance Barracks, SAPI plates were shipped all the way back to California for inspection.
According to current policy, only those plates that have been inspected within the previous nine months can be issued to soldiers. This meant many undamaged plates could not be issued or that plates of unknown quality might be deployed. Some 50,000 plates belonging to US Army Europe will be inspected by an 8-member Non-Destructive Test Equipment (NDTE) mobile inspection team now working at Kaiserlautern before being shipped to central issuing facilities throughout Europe.
There are over a million SAPI plates requiring inspection throughout the U.S. military worldwide, according to D'Aries. The AIS at Rhine Ordnance Barracks is, according to the NDTE team leader Bruce Cardell, the "first fixed site with an AIS that we have where we can actually jump the mobile team right into the inspection process."
Hopefully deployers will soon see them sent to places like the 19th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) in Daegu, Korea or even Camp Patriot. One would think if you can have a Burger King on the ground, you could also have a local armor inspection site.
Staff Sgt. Jeremie Oliver of Fort Hood, Courtesy Army.mil; Oliver's plate may have saved his life.