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(Photo: US Army)

During the most recent wars in America, troops have faced the threat of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, on a daily basis. More than a decade later, the U.S. military is building a new crash test dummy to better understand the physical risks these raw but deadly weapons pose to soldiers downstream.

In addition to recording the location of impacts and stresses during testing, the new design will be combined with a comprehensive database to help predict the likelihood of a person sustaining a serious injury. The Ground Combat branch has dubbed the program the Warrior Injury Assessment Dummy, or WIAMan. As anyone in the military probably already knows, “WIA” is also an acronym for “wounded in combat”.

The military is hoping the new device will help provide more information about what happens when a bomb explodes under a vehicle. “There is a wide range of test conditions and environmental settings” and “no two sets of system responses are the same,” engineers and scientists working on WIAMan explained in a briefing in June.

Members of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command and the Army Research Laboratory spoke with defense contractors to discuss the status of the program. The service wants to start looking for a company to make WIAMan mannequins by the end of 2017.

But building a prototype machine to meet the requirements was a long and complex process. Army launched WIAMan over five years not long ago, when the bulk of the American forces began to leave Iraq.

At this point, IEDs were a well-known threat. Huge bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan have regularly destroyed unarmed Humvees and better protected vehicles. The Pentagon responded by sending mine-resistant trucks, bomb detectors, jammers and other equipment to troops on the ground. While this equipment saved lives, it did not eliminate serious injuries.

During Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, explosives accounted for more than three-quarters of all military injuries, according to a study by Dr. Narayan Yoganandan, chair of biomedical engineering in the department of neurosurgery and professor of engineering biomedical at the University of Marquette, conducted and published in Clinical biomechanics in 2013. Explosions under vehicles could cause severe damage to the pelvis, spine, legs and feet, said Andrew Merkle, senior professional staff at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Lab, and his colleagues. colleagues in another coin from 2013.

At that time, Army researchers had to rely on a modified auto industry dummy called the Hybrid III. The manufacturer, Humanetics, only designed the original dummy to test the head on collisions in commercial cars. On top of that, the design reflected an outdated 1970s silhouette.

This surrogate person’s instruments only show damage and strain in large areas and joints. To help engineers and scientists record potential injuries, the Army’s version only has five so-called “biofidelity response lanes,” or BRCs.

By comparison, WIAMan will have over 800 BRCs. This means that instead of just detecting an impact on a part of the chest or the foot as a whole, the dummy would report dangerous forces on particular ribs or on the soles or the heel in particular.

The prototype dummy was structured around a 50e percentile male soldier. After the Pentagon removed the last restrictions preventing women from filling combat roles in December 2015, full production will have to include female body shapes.

Combined with an extensive and growing knowledge base of injury data, WIAMan should not only be able to highlight potential dangers, but also predict them. This means that when the military considers a new tank or truck in the future, researchers may be able to assess the likelihood that drivers and occupants will sustain specific injuries if they crash a roadside bomb. road.

And capturing more data from the dummy itself means engineers won’t have to try to cram secondary cameras or sensors inside armored vehicle compartments or truck cabs to collect additional information. important. These spaces are cramped initially and these sensitive systems are often damaged during testing.

An “explosion test of a substitute vehicle structure … provided realism,” noted another of the June presentations. “However, it is costly, non-reproducible, and the occupant’s response cannot be fully observed.”

Unfortunately, WIAMan alone will not be able to fill all of the military’s research gaps. The dummy will not be able to test a series of effects beyond an explosion under the body.

In its prototype form, the stand-in soldier cannot determine whether troops could be exposed to shrapnel or burns. In Iraq and Afghanistan, IEDs often trigger fuel or ammunition in vehicles, resulting in severe burns.

In 2006, the Marine Corps notably banned leather collars from wearing synthetic clothing, including popular Under Armor undershirts, due to their low melting point. The Corps found evidence that the clothes could fuse with the skin with horrific results in a fire.

More importantly, WIAMan will not be able to help gather much-needed information about the potential for traumatic brain injury, commonly referred to as TBI. Concussions and other TBIs are increasingly linked to long-term brain damage and an increased risk of serious health problems.

Since 2000, the Pentagon has diagnosed more than 340,000 active service members with various types of TBI, according to statistics compiled by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Health professionals have classified 5,000 of these cases as “penetrating,” cases where a real object pierces the skull and physically hits the brain.

By far, the majority of cases are “mild”, synonymous with concussions. However, research shows that people who suffer from multiple cases of these injuries suffer far from benign consequences.

While scientists are still studying the exact relationship between concussions and other health conditions, there is a significant correlation between injury and a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Also seen in boxers and other professional athletes, it is a form of dementia characterized by a decrease in memory, cognition and motor control and itself linked to depression, suicidal behavior and fits. aggressiveness.

American troops have already spent fifteen years in a state or almost constant combat operations. Given the rise of new terrorist groups like the Islamic State, the Pentagon’s high operational tempo appears unlikely to change in the near future.

In the meantime, soldiers and other service members are likely to continue to suffer from TBIs and other IED-related injuries. While not perfect, WIAMan will provide scientists and engineers with essential information to help protect our men and women in uniform.

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