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Airbags to Defend Against Rocket-Propelled Grenades

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The Military finds that Airbags could Prevent RPGs from Detonating

The classic airbag, a safety feature in most modern cars, may now be making an appearance in military vehicles. But the airbags will not be there to do the traditional job of protecting the driver and passengers from crashes, instead, they will be designed to defend against rocket-propelled grenades.

Airbag technology is the latest idea in the work to protect military vehicles from RPGs. The rocket-propelled grenades are deadly when used effectively as they can blast through at least a foot of armour. RPGs are often seen in guerrilla fighting as they are cost effective to use and easy to detonate. There have been many strategies to protect vehicles from RPGs and airbags is the latest one.

Textron, a defence and industrial product producing company, is working on a Tactical Rocket Propelled Grenade Airbag System (TRAPS) to utilise airbags to protect military vehicles. The system is designed to detect incoming warheads and release the airbags to prevent the rocket-propelled grenades from detonating.

Textron first revealed TRAPS at the Army trade show back in 2006. Since then, phase I testing has been carried out at the Army’s Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center in New Mexico. However, though this testing was successful, phase II testing has yet to happen so there has been a hold-up in developing the technology. This may be due to Textron’s involvement in the Army’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program. The company has been bidding to work on the project, which will involve creating an armoured scout and combat vehicle which has similarities to a Hummer.

It may be that TRAPS will make an appearance on the B-Kit JLTV, the heavy-armour model of the vehicle, as it is being designed to give 360 degree protection from RPGs. The airbag technology could work successfully on this project, especially if it is found to be effective in phase II testing.

TRAPS is another in a long line of methods used to provide adequate protection against PRGs. Different military countries have found different ways of warding off the bombs, though they all operate around the same two concepts of preventing the rocket from exploding or detonating it before it hits the vehicle. These range from the complex to the downright simple. For example, the Vietnamese army uses chicken wire to protect themselves. The chicken wire, placed as a concertinaed barrier around a vehicle, either causes the RPGs to short fuse or explode too early. This is because the explosion is usually caused by the impact, which sends an electrical charge through the weapon to detonate it, but, as the impact is softened by the chicken wire, the rocket either short fuses or explodes too early, causing only minimum damage to the vehicle and its occupants.

Other countries have come up with similar defences; Iraq uses rails and slatted armour on its vehicles to protect against RPGs while the U.S. military has found that enclosing armoured vehicles in steel cages to be effective.

The more high-tech and complex RPG protection systems are usually designed to intercept RPGs before they hit the vehicle. Though these methods can be effective it has also been found that they can cause damage and injuries to nearby civilians or troops.

This is why TRAPS is eliciting excitement and interest; the system should prevent rockets from exploding all together or only cause minimum damage if they do. Therefore, it will be less likely that the rockets will cause injuries to others. This new airbag technology may be the way forward in rocket defence.