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1 Jul 02. Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) are the most prolific ground launched threat to British and Allied armoured fighting vehicles world-wide. To combat this very real and dangerous threat the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory, Dstl, has developed an ‘Electric Armour’ that reduces the effect of impacts by such projectiles to almost zero, and will ultimately save the lives of soldiers.

To get an idea of the damage an RPG can cause, it should be realised that upon impact its ‘shaped charge’ explosive warhead shoots a rapier-like jet of hot copper into the target at several miles per second. Such jets can penetrate anything upwards of a foot (30cm) of solid steel armour. The effect almost invariably results in loss of life and can destroy a modern armoured infantry combat vehicle or tank costing millions. There is currently no armoured personnel carrier, and few tanks, that could practicably carry the weight of armour needed reliably to resist such impacts from any direction. In recent years intensive research has been conducted at Dstl to find a highly effective, yet lightweight, armour system to address this threat.

Dstl scientists have developed a revolutionary Electric Armour system which can resist attack by RPGs or other shaped charge weapons whilst remaining of a practical weight and size for armoured vehicles to carry. A recently demonstrated system, consisting of bulletproof metal plating, insulation, power distribution lines, and storage capacitors weighs a mere couple of tonnes, but has a protective effect equal to carrying an extra 10-20 tonnes of steel armour.

Commenting on this latest invention Dstl’s Professor John Brown says:

“RPG’s can be easily picked up from street stalls for as little as $10 in most of the world’s trouble spots. It only takes one individual on, say, a rooftop in a village to press the trigger to cause major damage to passing armoured vehicles.

The Dstl Electric Armour system is an exciting advance which has generated a lot of interest in both UK and US defence circles. I am confident that our system is the way forward for lightweight defence of military vehicles. It is being strongly supported by the Army and Ministry of Defence to reduce the threat from this highly dangerous class of weapon.”

Dstl scientists have recently demonstrated an armoured troop carrier protected by Electric Armour, in which, when danger threatens, an outer skin of metal plates can rapidly be electrified to several thousand volts. When hit by a RPG or other shaped charge warhead, the incoming copper jet has to pass through the electrified layers, where it has to endure the passage of many thousands of amperes of current.

Professor Brown explains:

“As is well known, a current of just thirteen amps is sufficient to ‘blow’ and disintegrate the fuse of a household electrical appliance. Similarly, the high speed copper jet from a shaped charge anti-tank warhead is virtually instantaneously dispersed by the high temperatures and powerful fields generated by the so-called ‘Pulsed Power’ System carried by the vehicle. Any residual debris is absorbed by the vehicle’s ordinary armoured hull.”

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