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DST studying civilian injury data to enhance soldier protection

A Thales Hawkei undergoes blast testing to determine crew survivability and structural integrity. Photo: Defence

DST researchers are studying trauma data from civilian hospital patients to help improve their understanding of how extreme forces affect the human body, supporting their efforts to protect soldiers on the battlefield.

Reducing the risk posed by roadside bombs is an area of significant effort by DST, but collecting data on the battlefield is extremely challenging.

DST scientists have therefore come up with alternative means of gathering information that will help them design better military vehicles for Australian troops, including looking for comparable scenarios in the civilian world. Dr Melanie Franklyn from DST’s Land Division is analysing data from hospital patients involved in serious fall events.

“A fall from a height where the patient lands on the base of their pelvis generates vertical-loading conditions similar to those exerted on a soldier subjected to an underbelly blast from under their seat,” explains Dr Franklyn.

Dr Melanie Franklyn of DST positions a test dummy inside a Hawkei prior to a blast test. Photo: Defence

A soldier travelling in an armoured vehicle that is struck from underneath by an underbelly blast is at risk of sustaining severe injuries to the pelvis and lower back that could be life-changing, or even fatal.

Gaining a better understanding of the relationship between impact conditions and the tolerance of the pelvis and spine to fracture would support efforts to optimise safety measures in military vehicles.

Dr Franklyn is working with experts at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney to review medical records, analysing data from patients admitted with severe pelvic or lower back fractures as a result of serious fall events.

Age was found to be the most important factor determining the severity of the injuries.

Analysis of the data revealed that tolerance to serious pelvic and spinal fractures was significantly higher, on average, in the younger individuals than in older individuals.

Safety measures must reflect a balanced approach to risk, providing the greatest overall level of protection for a vehicle’s occupants in a confined space. This research therefore has implications for how equipment is designed and tested.

Dr Franklyn’s research has not only directly contributed to the enhancement of test programs for Australian Army vehicles but has also informed the development of a US Army blast dummy called WIAMan (Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin).

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