CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
People are the most important commodity in our military. Thus, protecting them with trust-worthy and effective equipment is of the highest priority. When it comes time for troops to deploy and are issued body armor, or even for the stateside defenders who wear it on a daily basis, they want to know what they are wearing has been inspected and verified to meet the standard of potentially saving their life.
The testing and accountability for the vast number of ballistic plates throughout the military falls on the shoulders of Non-Destructive Testing Equipment teams. Recently, a NDTE crew traveled to Cannon to conduct their testing methods on approximately 20,000 hard armor inserts.
The key to reach a number like that: an Armor Inspection System, or AIS.
“The AIS contains three different key stations for the plates to pass through,” said Dennis Brazinski, NDTE mobile team lead. “At the first station, a technician loads the plates into the AIS where the machine scans for the UID.”
A Unique Identifier is a numeric or alphanumeric string that is associated with a single entity within a given system and makes it possible to track that unit. After that is scanned, next comes taking a closer look at the integrity of the plate.
“The second station involves the use of x-rays,” Brazinski said. “[The AIS] shoots an x–ray image at a plate to find any faults or cracks that it may have. Lastly, the third station takes the data from the x-ray portion and determines whether the plate is serviceable or not.”
Plates containing no signs of damage are considered serviceable and are good for future use. Plates with slight damage can be repurposed into ‘training use only’ since they can act as a weight but aren’t safe enough for actual combat use. Lastly, plates with major damage are considered defective and later destroyed.
When an NDTE team arrives at a location, they are not only checking that installation’s plates but plates from numerous locations in the surrounding area.
“The plates we were working with today were from Luke Air Force Base,” explained Brazinski.
The geographical strategy is called the ‘hub and spoke’ approach with Cannon acting as a ‘hub’ base, or central location, for other bases or military installations acting as the ‘spokes’ to send their plates in order for them to be tested. This cuts down on cost and time allowing the NDTE team to travel around the country to each hub base and test all the plates from that surrounding region.
The team is tasked by the United States Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, who in this case, coordinated with the Air Force Material Command to establish a plan for teams to visit Air Force bases in 2020.
“When this was first being planned, Air Force Material Command selected different bases to be hubs around the Air Force,” said 2nd Lt. John Sadler, 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron’s officer in charge of asset management within the Material Management Flight. “Originally we were supposed to be a spoke and send our plates to Lackland.”
Sadler said the reason for this change was that this was the first time the Air Force has decided to test the serviceability of all body plates at one time. This called for additional hubs to be added to the overall plan and Cannon was one of the bases who offered to support.
“We had the facility to conduct the testing in and also, we know it is a really good opportunity for us to be able to test all of our plates right here on base and have them ready to go as opposed to sending them out a little bit at a time,” Sadler explained.
The 27 SOLRS directly supported the NDTE team’s visit, whose original arrival date was planned back in March. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on base, the team’s visit had to be postponed.
“Once contractors were allowed back on base we only had a few weeks to get everything spun back up,” Sadler said. “We were able to get the NDTE team on base and also reach out to other bases to have them ship us their plates in time.”
The importance of this event is evident to Sadler as he acknowledges this testing directly impacts the readiness of every installation involved in the process. A thought shared by the NDTE team lead as well.
“This is probably the first job that I have had where I am actually proud of what I’m doing,” Brazinski said. “I understand the importance of keeping our military members safe so I take this job very seriously and extremely proud of the work our team accomplishes.”
Brazinski said that this year alone, the team has traveled to Travis AFB, Ft. Campbell, Ft. Bliss, Ft. Stewart, Ft. Benning, Ft. Riley and Cannon, with plans to visit Lackland AFB next.