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The Eyes Have It: New Battlefield Armor

Special to American Forces Press Service

NATICK, Mass., Jan. 22, 2002 – The new, streamlined Military Eye Protection System developed at the Army Soldier Systems Center here is about to replace a grab bag of current protective eyewear.

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Sgt. Thomas Preston wears the new Military Eye Protection System's spectacles with sunglass lenses. Army Photo.
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Army and Marine Corps have used a combination of the Ballistic/Laser Protective Spectacles; Special Protective Eyewear, Cylindrical System; and Sun, Wind and Dust Goggles since the mid-1990s to shield troops from eye injury.

The new gear increases protection and works with half the number of interchangeable lenses needed by today's lineup. Soon, troops will have a system in sleek goggles or spectacles and a one set of interchangeable lenses that can fit both.

"Soldier acceptability is tough," said Michelle Markey, project officer at Product Manager-Soldier Equipment. "It is difficult to get soldiers to wear eye protection, especially those who are not used to wearing glasses. They are more likely to wear their eye protection if it is something they look good in, and I think these goggles and spectacles will be well-accepted."

Of course, there's more than good looks and fashion at stake. An estimated 10 percent of all battlefield injuries are to the eye, and that rate has climbed steadily since the Civil War, according to project engineer Harold Moody. Explosive fragments, tree branches, blowing sand and rocks, and lasers present the major battlefield hazards to the eyes.

"These injuries are also easy to protect against using polycarbonate (plastic)," Markey said. "Our eye protection is designed to stop a .15 caliber, 5.7 grain fragment simulating a projectile traveling at 640-660 feet per second."

The new protection system carries over the lightweight, tough polycarbonate used in current protective eyewear that passed tests for ballistic resistance. But now the new spectacles expand wearers' peripheral protection. Like SPECS and BLPS, they also meet the American National Standards Institute requirements for occupational eye and face protection.

Another military requirement is protection from laser range finders and target designators.

BLPS, SPECS and SWDG each use four lenses for four purposes: clear, sunglass, three-line laser protection and two-line laser protection. When lasers are not a hazard, soldiers can use the clear lens to protect against ballistic and ultraviolet rays day or night, or use a sunglass lens during the day that adds sun glare protection.

When lasers are a danger, soldiers currently switch to a green lens that blocks two wavelengths for use in dim light or a dark lens that shields three wavelengths for use in daylight. Special coloring and coatings absorb the laser to eliminate or minimize injuries.

"The problem with (the daytime lens) is that it's dye-based and very dark. It is not suitable for use at night, which is why there is a separate two-wavelength lens, which has better transmission properties for nighttime use," Markey said. "The third wavelength wouldn't likely be used at night anyway, because it would be visible."

The new system uses two types of laser-reflective technology sandwiched between two layers of polycarbonate for durability, and it covers a wider band of near-infrared wavelength energy than the current systems. Separate day and night lenses are gone.

"We're looking at blocking broad bands of laser while minimizing the impact on color vision," Markey said. "This is critical in order to maintain the soldiers' ability to read maps and use devices such as image intensifiers. We also wanted better light transmission than the current systems and ultimately would like to have tunable laser protection that adjusts to the hazard." Other improvements are in fit, comfort and logistical efficiency.

Ballistic/Laser Protective Spectacles were designed for prescription eyeglass wearers. They were one-size-fits-all and hard to fit users properly. Special Protective Eyewear, Cylindrical System, come in two sizes for better fit, but they can be worn only by those with normal vision. Military-issued eyeglasses fit inside Sun, Wind and Dust Goggles, but often with just enough room.

The new system can be worn by anyone and comes in two spectacle sizes for an improved fit while retaining just one size of goggles. A prescription lens carrier snaps into the goggles and spectacles frames if needed.

Clear, sunglass and laser lenses, all with ballistic protection, are interchangeable between the large spectacles and goggles for simpler supply and storage. Spectacles or goggles, along with two extra lenses, are stored and carried in a rigid foam case with a green cloth cover.

The Military Eye Protection System was tested with more than 26 pieces of equipment to ensure optical and structural compatibility, Moody said.

Markey demonstrated how easily the goggles tighten and loosen for fall-to-the-chest capability, a feature important to a gunner looking through his tank or infantry vehicle's internal sights. Currently used goggles have a simple elastic strap and are stowed on the helmet, which interferes with the proper use of the tank sights, said Moody.

Goggles are undergoing user evaluation at the Marine Corps Air- Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and both goggle and spectacle prototypes are being evaluated at Fort Campbell, Ky. Fielding is expected to begin in 2005.

For more information about the Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command or the Soldier Systems Center (Natick), visit the command's Web site at http://www.sbccom.army.mil.

(From a Soldier and Biological Chemical Command news release.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLoose strap ends on the MEPS goggles fasten with Velcro. Army Photo.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA prescription lens carrier snaps into the MEPS spectacles. Troops with normal vision wear the spectacles without inserts. Army Photo.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMilitary-issued eyeglasses barely fit inside the Sun, Wind and Dust goggles, but eyeglass inserts fit comfortably in new Military Eye Protection System goggles. Army Photo.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMEPS goggles easily tighten and loosen for "fall- to-the-chest" capability, a feature important to a gunner who's trying to use the internal sights in his tank or infantry vehicle. Army Photo.  
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