You’ve likely seen in movies that whenever there’s a bomb threat somewhere, a couple of military/police guys appear in special suits that are obviously not meant to make the wearer look stylish. After watching this particular scene in so many movies and TV shows, by now, you’ll have guessed that it’s a bomb disposal suit that they wear while inspecting a bomb and diffusing it.
However, have you ever wondered what’s inside that heavy, clumsy suit that keeps the wearer protected should the bomb unexpectedly detonate? What makes those suits so effective in protecting the wearer against an explosion?
What is a Bomb Disposal Suit?
A bomb disposal suit (or a blast suit or an Explosive Ordinance Disposal suit) is a form of specialized body armor that’s designed to protect the wearer against an explosion’s fragments, should the bomb detonate unexpectedly during the process of diffusing it or transporting it. Bomb disposal suits are worn by highly-trained professionals (EOD: Explosive Ordinance Disposal technicians) who attempt to diffuse bombs during reconnaissance and disruption procedures on explosive threats.
The most commonly used bomb suit these days is the Advanced Bomb Suit (ABS), which is mostly used by EOD technicians during militaristic operations. Due to the ever-growing need for threat analysis and the elimination of bomb explosions, however, the ABS is also used by police and other local peacekeeping forces. The ABS can be seen in action in many movies and TV shows from time to time. The Hurt Locker, a 2008 American war film, depicts the protagonist donning the ABS to diffuse explosives a number of times.
A bomb disposal suit is a very, very important piece of gear for a bomb disposal expert for obvious reasons. Unlike ballistic body armor (which only protects the wearer’s head and torso), a bomb suit focuses on protecting each and every part of the body (except the hands). This is because fragments released following an explosion fly in every direction, rendering the person working on diffusing it completely vulnerable to grievous or fatal injuries on various body parts.
The ABS is designed to either stop or deflect high-velocity projectiles hurtling towards the wearer following an explosion. Therefore, the suit is made by combining a few low-weight but high-strength materials, including Nomex, Kevlar, foams and multiple plastic composites that are layered to provide maximum protection and an effective shield against high-speed projectiles.
Let’s take a look at the different areas that a bomb suit protects:
Fragmentation presents the greatest threat to a bomb disposal expert; therefore, the primary objective of the bomb suit is to protect against projectiles. To shield against tiny fragments hitting the wearer directly, the ABS consists of blast panels fitted on the outside of the suit in order to prevent fragments and other high-speed projectiles from entering the suit. They help protect major body parts, including the neck, arms, upper torso and legs.
The suit also has rigid composite ballistic panels that offer reinforced protection to the chest, lower abdomen and groin areas. Upon testing, it has been observed that these panels can block fragments flying as fast as 3,728 miles per hour (1667 m/s)!
The pressure wave released following an explosion can cause serious/permanent damage to the eardrums, and lungs (can cause lung compression), and even cause internal injuries in other parts of the body. To counter that, special rigid ballistic panels are placed over the chest to absorb the high pressure generated during a blast.
An explosion can cause the head and the rest of the body to accelerate at different rates (also known as ‘differential acceleration’), which can cause terrible injuries to the neck and spine. To offset the impact of a blast, every ABS is equipped with a special spine protector and a raised supportive neck collar that overlaps the helmet. This helps in curbing the differential acceleration to a great extent.
These are some areas where a bomb suit protects the wearer from the direct effects of a blast, but this is not all that bomb suits are designed to do. Diffusing a bomb, quite predictably, is a high-pressure task that requires immense care and a cool head on the wearer’s part.
Other functions of the ABS
In order to make sure that the wearer is constantly informed of the surrounding developments, the helmet consists of a communication system consisting of a set of speakers and a microphone. Furthermore, to tackle the unbearable heat that could adversely impact the wearer’s concentration and operational efficiency, a Nomex body suit with a woven capillary tube network is worn next to the skin. This, in turn, is connected to a water reservoir (that can hold 2 liters worth of water), which circulates ice cold water all around the ABS to keep the wearer comfortable and focused on cutting the right wires!
The ABS typically weighs more than 35 kilograms (77 pounds), which means that it does hinder the wearer’s situational awareness and mobility. Also, note that the ABS is not the only type of bomb suit; bomb suits differ according to the type of bomb that needs to be diffused, weather conditions and other relevant operational factors of the task at hand.
The basic idea, however, remains the same: protect the one person who’s trying to protect countless others.