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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — One idea the Army is testing to safeguard its soldiers is a wallpaperlike material that protects building occupants from blasts.

The material is called X-Flex and it is designed to protect people inside buildings at forward operating bases and at other potential targets. X-Flex was developed by Indiana-based Berry Plastics and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Officials say X-Flex is a fiber-reinforced polymer composite designed to work as a stretch-and-catch system. It is applied to a wall’s interior and then bolted to the ceiling and floor. When a blast detonates, the X-Flex stretches to absorb the blast to prevent deadly debris and shrapnel from spreading inside.

“If you get a large explosion, that wall is going to fragment and that is what is going to be your killer,” said Wayne Stroupe, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss.

X-Flex, which can hold up to the elements, mold and fungus as well as blasts, has been impressive during blast tests at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Stroupe said.

Neither the Army Corps of Engineers nor Berry officials would disclose how big of a bomb X-Flex can protect against.

But they do say that it is easy to use.

“One of the keys for X-Flex is its simplicity and rapid application. It is very easy to apply,” said Elizabeth Curran, business development manager for Berry Plastics. A wall 10-by-11 feet can be wallpapered with X-Flex in 30 minutes, she said.

X-Flex has not been used downrange, but it is ready to go and the Army Corps of Engineers is pushing for its use, Stroupe said.

Airbags with ‘secret sauce’ may defend against RPGs

Another idea the military is looking to improve on is airbags.

The airbag system being developed to protect vehicles from RPGs is called Tactical Rocket Propelled Airbag Protection System, or TRAPS. The Army is working with Textron Systems Corporation of Wilmington, Mass., on the project.

TRAPS uses sensors installed on a vehicle — such as a Humvee, Abrams tank, Stryker or Bradley fighting vehicle — to detect an incoming RPG, determine where it will hit and then inflate an airbag to deflect it before its round can explode. Textron officials said TRAPS could be deployed by mid-2010.

"It’s an airbag plus more," said Tom McNamara, chief technology officer with Textron. "That more, which is the proprietary material, is what defeats the RPG from [exploding]."

McNamara wouldn’t say what that material is — he called it the "secret sauce" — but said if an RPG hit a protected vehicle, the inflated airbag would cause it to fall to the ground and that it would not detonate.

Officials from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Michigan cited operational security reasons for declining to comment for this story.

Textron estimates that it would cost less than $100,000 to defend a Humvee with TRAPS and about $125,000 for an Abrams tank.

— Mark Abramson

Stripes in 7

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