Harnessing excellence — Army patents blast debris protective harness
Engineers and designers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center have patented a blast debris protective harness.
The harness is worn outside the pants. It was designed to protect the groin and femoral artery from blast debris and to prevent debris from embedding in and around the groin. The problem was so severe that repeated surgeries were often needed to remove the debris, which lead to extreme discomfort, as well as health and hygiene issues. The harness has since been adapted to also provide fragmentation protection.
Kristine Isherwood, an NSRDEC mechanical engineer, was the overall project lead and Cara Tuttle, an NSRDEC clothing designer, was the design lead. NSRDEC’s Blake Mitchell, Annette LaFleur, David Brantley and Magdalena Mulherin also worked on the project/patent.
Isherwood explained that a joint urgent operational needs statement was issued for blast debris protection. As the Product Manager Soldier Protective Equipment evaluated commercial-off-the-shelf solutions to meet the need, NSRDEC went to work developing something from scratch. NSRDEC evaluated different under-trouser, within-the trouser and over-trouser designs before choosing the harness.
“The protection that existed before was letting debris in because it wasn’t fitted close enough to the body,” Tuttle said. “Soldiers weren’t wearing it often enough, and it didn’t come down inside of the leg to protect the femoral artery.”
“The harness-type design, which was patented earlier this year, turned out to be the most effective,” said Isherwood.
“Within the outer shell, the multiple layers of Kevlar have seam allowance that alternate as they overlap,” said Tuttle. “A layer overlaps in one direction, then the next layer overlaps in the opposite direction, and it keeps alternating. This creates a better barrier for small frags — which would have to zig zag through all these layers to get through. That’s not going to happen.”
“By not stacking the seams, it creates a convoluted path,” said Isherwood.
The resulting design hugs the body without hindering movement or range of motion.
“Fit, material and acceptability to the Soldiers are key,” said Tuttle. “We partnered with the Human Factors Team to get the best fit.”
“It was challenging to add layers and area of coverage without impacting movement,” said Isherwood. “Whether you had to climb in a window or kneel, it needed to stay in place, but allow full range of motion. The uniqueness of this design is that it’s stable but moves with you.”
“There are other design features as well, such as easy access to the pockets,” said Tuttle. “There are buckles that allow for easy doffing and donning. You can just snap it on and off. There’s adjustability on the straps and the buckles, which gives you a nice snug fit.”
Isherwood and Tuttle are dedicated to improving quality of life and safety of the warfighter.
“I worked in the apparel industry for a number of years before coming to Natick,” said Tuttle. “There is nothing in the industry quite like what we do here at Natick. We are helping to protect the men and women who are protecting our country. Our work can improve their quality of life and has the potential to save lives. It’s an amazing experience.”
“Protecting our Soldiers is what motivates me every morning,” said Isherwood. “They are volunteering to be put in harm’s way, so anything I can do to protect them without compromising their effectiveness is the goal. That’s what we are trying to do every day.”
As with many protective items developed by NSRDEC, the innovation will not only benefit the warfighter as a component of the new Soldier Protection System but in the future may be licensed for use by first responders.
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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.