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Brit firm sells hi-tech fabric vehicle armour to DARPA

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In normal times, amazing new military technology is developed in the USA and Blighty trails far behind, either reinventing American wheels or simply importing them. But today the process is reversed in a small way, as the Pentagon's bleeding-edge research bureau has decided to try out British-made tech which is already going into action with UK forces.

The kit in question is the cunning "TARIAN" cloth armour system from Dorset firm Amsafe Bridport. Though it is made of lightweight fabric, TARIAN can resist armour-piercing antitank rocket warheads. It is being fitted to British combat vehicles in place of much heavier "bar" or "slat" protection, intended to protect them from the shoulder-fired RPG* rockets with which they are regularly peppered in Afghanistan.

Both TARIAN and bar protection work the same way: they are mounted a little distance out from the vehicle's surface so that the tip of a flying RPG warhead hits them first, triggering it slightly early. The plasma jet formed by the explosion has thus lost much of its focus and energy by the time it strikes the regular armour plate, and lacks the penetration to pierce it.

The difference is that the mattress-like TARIAN is much lighter than metal bars or slats, which is good news as more stuff can be carried and/or overloading reduced. Following Afghan trials, the MoD now intends to make widespread use of it. TARIAN was apparently developed after Amsafe - which makes various tough-fabric products including safety belts and cargo nets - came up with the idea and made a "cold" approach to the MoD in 2005.

Meanwhile in America, Pentagon supertech hothouse DARPA - which gave the world Stealth, the internet, night vision etc etc - has been trying to develop a lightweight RPG barrier for ages. The DARPA programme is called "RPGnets", and is aimed at "special high-capability nets to dud, break, or otherwise disable rocket propelled grenades (RPGs)".

Today, DARPA has announced that it intends to give Amsafe a $100,000 sole-source order for thirty "test articles". According to the military boffins "the proprietary Amsafe net technology shows unique promise in successfully defeating RPGs".

Just for once, it seems that British military tech is ahead of America's. Gratifyingly, it would seem that there could be some lucrative exports on the horizon. ®

*Rocket Propelled Grenade, or Raketniy Protivotankoviy Granatomet ("Rocket Anti-Tank Grenade Launcher").

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