Research into blast behaviour that could save British troops

Supplementary content information

  • Research reveals how the blast produced by a landmine or IED would impact armoured vehicles
  • Addresses a vital gap in our knowledge of how buried IEDs interact with their environment
  • Will help to inform future designs of armoured vehicles
  • Aids risk assessment and route planning for operations in combat zones

Research by EPSRC-supported scientists at the University of Sheffield has shed unprecedented light on the behaviour of blasts produced by landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and could aid the development of enhanced protection for UK soldiers on military, peace-keeping and humanitarian missions.

By focusing on explosives hidden in clay soils, the project addressed a vital gap in knowledge about how buried explosives interact with their surrounding environment. This is a key factor in determining the pattern and extent of the pressure produced by an explosion.

The project is part of a wider ongoing initiative – the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory's (Dstl’s) programme to understand the effects of IEDs and land mines on armoured vehicles.

As well as helping to inform future designs of armoured vehicles, the data produced by the project will aid risk assessment and route planning for operations in current and future combat zones.

Using the University of Sheffield’s unique Explosives Arena, the team, led by Dr Sam Clarke, carried out around 250 test explosions using different soil samples and made 17 different pressure measurements during each test. The results were backed up and verified by numerical modelling developed and applied as part of an EPSRC CASE (Collaborative Award in Science and Engineering) Studentship.

The research has revealed how the blast produced by a landmine or IED would interact, for instance, with anti-mine body armour or an armoured plate fixed underneath a troop transport vehicle.

Hundreds of UK service personnel have been killed or injured by IEDs in recent years, while landmines in former warzones worldwide continue to cause thousands of deaths every year. In the face of dangers like these, there is a constant drive to keep improving the capabilities of vehicle armour, personal armour and protective footwear, and this can be aided by a clearer understanding about how explosions actually behave.

Dr Sam Clarke says: “Detonations of explosives in shallow soils are extremely complex events that involve the interaction of the shock waves with the surrounding soil, air and water.

“The understanding we’ve generated about how clay soils affect the process is a key piece in the jigsaw, as it complements the extensive knowledge that’s already been built up about explosions in sandy and gravelly soils, which are much less cohesive than clay soils.”