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Acquisition Reform 

Smart Armor Shield Deploys Like Air Bag to Stop Bullets 

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by Sandra I. Erwin 

Providing security for VIPs-ranging from government officials to movie stars-when they appear in public areas, typically means deploying protective barriers such as concrete walls or Plexiglas shields.

A new product now entering the marketplace aims to replace those obstructive protection devices. Its manufacturers claim that this technology can do what only Superman could: detect incoming bullets and stop them within fractions of a second. This protective device-a 1-foot tall, 3-foot wide rectangular box-deploys an inflated 6-foot by 5-foot bullet-proof shield when it senses that a round has been fired from a distance of at least 40 feet. Essentially, it operates like an automobile air bag.

The device is called the Instantaneous Personnel Protection System (IPPS) and is made by Ibis Technologies, a three-year- old company based in Gibsonia, Pa.

"Most people can't believe that you can set something down on the floor and shoot at it, and the thing pops up and stops the bullet," said John D. Weaver, one of the company's partners who own the patent for IPPS.

The system was tested late last year and is now ready for production, even though company officials have not yet determined how much they will charge for IPPS. "We are still putting the final production prices together," Weaver said.

Ibis is marketing the product in Europe and the Middle East. In the United States, there is potential for sales to law enforcement and military agencies involved in counter-terrorism, he noted. There will be government-unique and commercial configurations of IPPS.

The device is composed of five subsystems, explained Weaver during a recent interview:

  • A specially configured millimeter radar, which detects the incoming round and sends a signal to deploy the ballistic shield. Its detection range is about 150 feet. The radar was developed by Southwest Research Institute, of San Antonio, Texas.
  • The shield deployment system, which includes high-speed generators of inflation gas to launch and sustain IPPS, and inflatable tubes that support the shield. These components are made by Pacific Scientific, of Chandler, Ariz.
  • The flexible armor that makes up the ballistic shield. It is supplied by Second Chance Body Armor, located in Central Lake, Mich. The ballistic fabric is called Ziloflex, which is a generation more advanced than Kevlar, said Weaver.
  • The base, in the form of a rectangular box.
  • A power backup system.
In order to ensure that IPPS works, it must be placed securely on the floor, to keep it from flying off when it deploys. That means it needs a base floor that can take at least 600 pounds of weight in one place, said Weaver. The system, fully installed, weighs nearly 400 pounds.

The baseline design of IPPS protects against 9mm rounds. "We haven't done a lot of different rounds. That is something we would like to pursue further," said Weaver. The ballistic shield was tested against weapons such as the .375 magnum pistol, 12-gauge shotgun, .44 magnum pistol, M5P submachine gun and .45 caliber submachine gun.

One of the most daunting challenges in developing IPPS, said Weaver, was determining potential sources of electronic signals that could set off the system accidentally. "We were particularly concerned about sources of electronic pulses [such as] cellular phones, aircraft radar, things in the atmosphere that might unintentionally set it off." Program researchers realized there were no reliable sources of data to find, for example, the various kinds of electronic pulses one might encounter in Washington, D.C.

Within the next year, Weaver said, the company plans to expand the technology into other applications. One area of potential growth is vehicle protection. The technology in IPPS, he said, could be used to develop "instantaneous standoff armor" for small military vehicles. The system would detect incoming rounds and provide small vehicles with the advantages of standoff armor that currently is found in large combat platforms.

IPPS also could be adapted to protect windows-in vehicles and buildings-that currently are made of costly armored glass. "This might provide an alternative, rapidly deployed metal that would go over transparent armor," said Weaver. The upshot would be long-term cost savings because the windows would have the additional protection, so they could be made with a less-expensive armored glass. In desert-like areas such as the Middle East, he explained, the cost of maintaining facilities with armored glass windows is high because the glass gets scuffed by sand and other elements. "You can go with a less expensive material, and you can provide protection with IPPS only when you need it."

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