Selfridge Research Helps Keep Soldiers Safe

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
A test lab on this air base is helping to keep Soldiers safe on the road.

At the Occupant Protection Lab, a component of the U.S. Army's TARDEC Ground System Survivability Laboratory, Army civilian engineers spend their days testing different types of seats that may eventually end up in a wide variety of Army tactical vehicles. The OPL is located at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, a dozen miles or so from the main TARDEC - Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering -- facility at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Mich. The lab is one of a number of joint military facilities at Selfridge quietly going about their business a few hundred yards away from the military aircraft that routinely take off and land at Selfridge.

"We do testing on a variety of commercial options available for use in Army or other military applications," said Chris Felczak, the lab's manager.

When the Army is considering making changes to the interior of vehicles, the engineers at the OPL at Selfridge can create a variety of tests that can simulate how a vehicle's occupant is likely to be effected by a vehicle crash, explosion or other impact. A number of crash-test facilities exist in the automotive industry in and around the Detroit area, but the Army's lab at Selfridge is among the few - and perhaps the only one - testing for impacts caused by possible bomb blasts on a vehicle.

"We have some specialized concerns, obviously, because of the environment that some of our vehicles work in," Felczak said. "But it certainly does benefit us to be here in the Detroit area, where all of the automotive people are clustered."

In addition to testing seats and vehicle occupant compartments, Felczak said the lab also does some testing on the survivability of vehicles incident recorders - similar to the famed "black boxes" on airliners - that are carried in many military vehicles.

The OPL at Selfridge is preparing to add a major, new piece of equipment: a new testing device that will accommodate up to four test dummies in a vehicle's occupant area. The device will also Felczak and his crew to place the dummies in a configuration that would mirror a squad of Soldiers seated in the rear of an armored personnel carrier, as an example, and then create a number of impact scenarios to test what happens to the dummies. The new test equipment is expected to be installed this fall. Felczak said to his knowledge, once the new equipment is in place, it will be the only system in the world that allows for testing of a four-occupant cabin in which simulated blasts can occur from under the vehicle - such as what could happen if an explosive device is driven over. In addition to looking at what happens to the dummies as a result the initial blast, the lab's engineers also examine how placement of different equipment in the vehicle can impact Soldier safety.

"We're even looking at if there is an impact, will the driver bump into another occupant. Is there a way to minimize that?" Felczak said.

The OPL runs the tests and records the data and then turn that over to Army program managers who then work with industry to purchase the safest possible vehicle for the Soldier. Given the ever-changing threats that exist on the battlefield, Felczak said the Army is constantly evolving its systems as well.

The OPL lab at Selfridge is one of several Army capabilities at the suburban Detroit base. In addition to several other TARDEC-related programs, the Michigan Army National Guard also flies CH-47 Chinook helicopters at the base. Selfridge is also home to units of the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Customs & Border Protection.

Felczak said while the Army will keep testing and will keep seeking ways to improve vehicle occupancy safety, there is one simple step that anyone can take to greatly increase their safety: buckle up.

"The best seat in the word is not going to protect you if you aren't strapped in to it," he said.