PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — It’s the summer of 2005 and a squad of New York Army National Guard Soldiers is on patrol in Iraq. In an instant, their medic is struck by a round fired from an insurgent.
But just as quickly, the medic springs back up and moves to cover, pointing in the suspected direction of fire.
The Soldiers give chase and catch up to one of the insurgents, who has been injured in the pursuit. The medic treats the insurgent’s wounds, saving his life.
The medic’s own life is saved by the ceramic body armor plate he is wearing.
The ceramic armor he wore, dubbed small arms protective insert, or SAPI, is standard issue to Soldiers and is an integral part of the outer tactical vest, or OTV, body armor system.
Ensuring the integrity of those plates is a task undertaken by the Quality Engineering and System Assurance, or QE&SA,
In early 2005, representatives from Project Manager Soldier Survivability of Fort Belvoir, Va., the organization responsible for the armor plates worn by Soldiers, approached QE&SA personnel in the radiographic laboratory to ask if it was feasible to inspect the ceramic armor plates.
“Being a ceramic, these SAPI plates are a glass and like all glasses are brittle and prone to cracking,” said Lawrence J. D’Aries, QE&SA’s chief scientist for non-Destructive evaluation.
“Many non-destructive inspection techniques were tried in the past but none proved to be both possible and feasible,” D’Aries said. “Since our expertise at the radiographic lab is in radiographic (X-ray) inspection, this was the next and last technique to try.”
After a day of experimentation and test shots using various X-ray sources available at the lab, the scientists and engineers discovered that X-ray inspection was a viable solution.
As a result, the armor inspection system, or AIS, prototype was developed with the assistance of a small business contract with JDLL, Inc., of Midvale, Utah, over the next 14 months.
“Most of the items developed at ARDEC are offensive weapons,” D’Aries said. “Although this is the story of assuring the ballistic integrity of body armor, a defensive ‘weapon,’ there is probably no other piece of equipment issued to our troops that is more important.”