ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md.  — New ballistic research areas are filling a critical gap in troop pelvic protection systems, said U.S. Army Research Laboratory engineers.

No standard, scientific methodology currently exists to assess the performance of personal protection equipment, or PPE, against secondary debris, such as flying rocks and bomb fragments ejected after a buried improvised explosive device, detonates, said Tyrone Jones, a mechanical engineer in Army Research Laboratory’s, Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.

ARL teamed with the Program Executive Office Soldier, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Joint IED Defeat Organization and the British Ministry of Defence to provide the Army with a technical tool to evaluate the PPE against this spectrum of threats.

In 2010, ARL began developing a novel lab scale test methodology to reproduce the soil conditions from buried IEDs and then consistently launch the surrogate soils via a sabot from a medium-caliber smooth-bore gun, called the sand cannon.

The test methodology quantifies the debris-resistant performance of various fabrics such as kevlar and jersey knitted silk, to be integrated into current PPE within a highly controlled environment. From here, Jones said, researchers can understand and readily identify the penetration mechanisms of the secondary debris.

ARL tested candidate materials provided by NSRDC leading to an improvement in the “ballistic boxer shorts” the military fielded last summer under its formal name, the pelvic protection system, as a response to the growing number of Soldiers on foot patrol suffering injuries to the groin caused by IED blasts, and secondary debris.

As of March, more than 15,000 Soldiers had received the Army’s pelvic protection system.

The previous system was designed to protect against numerous threats, including small arms fire, thermal and environmental, but much of it can’t fully stand up against the tiniest of culprits — soil particulate and small debris — that en masse, can cause irreversible medical damage to soft tissue to include internal bleeding.

“Secondary debris, including soil ejecta, from buried explosive devices can lead to severe contamination and debridement issues for wounds and adds to the complexity of the first response care of stabilizing the primary wound,” said Jones.

Col. James Jezior, chief of urology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., said it’s not too difficult to tell the difference between a blast injury and a high velocity or gunshot wound type injury.

“The patterns of injury are much different between the two,” Jezior said. “Whether we see the fragments from the actual armament or secondary debris from things around or from the vehicle, I don’t think that’s quite as easy to tell. It’s probably in many of the cases a mixture of those things that are eventually embedded in tissue or are part of the injury mechanism.”