NATICK, Mass. -- Researchers at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, are working to provide Soldiers ballistic protection from the ground up and maybe even below.

The Expeditionary Bunker System is intended to be used during the threat of an attack, providing effective protection against direct and indirect fire. The system will cost less than the concrete bunkers that are currently in use and offers increased mobility and easier set up. The bunker is designed to be deployed in under an hour by a team of four people.

"It will be available for day one of the deployment and will have a known, consistent level of protection," said Karen Horak, lead program engineer, Collective Protection Systems Team in the Expeditionary Maneuver Support Directorate at NSRDEC. "The system will go up and down quickly and can move with the unit. The materials are designed to be low cost."

The Expeditionary Bunker System features a modular set up in four sections, including a two-panel armor system. The bunker uses technology from the Improved Modular Ballistic Protection System, or MBPS-X, which consists of highly mobile, re-deployable, reusable, quickly erectable, lightweight panels that provide ballistic protection to Soldiers in a variety of shelters.

"The current design uses the MBPS-X panels," said Horak. "Different protection levels can be accommodated by panel layering."

The system is designed primarily to be used above ground.

"A field commander, however, may choose to place some of the system below ground," said Horak.

NSRDEC is working on the Expeditionary Bunker System with Compotech, Inc., a spin-off from the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composite Center. In its current incarnation, the bunker, depending on the threat, consists of a scaffolding frame, ballistic panels, a pre-detonation screen and sandbags.

The system is in very early development and an initial prototype was recently demonstrated at NSRDEC.

"The intent was to get as many Soldiers to look at the system as possible," said Horak. "We wanted their feedback early in the design process so we can give them what they need."

Jason Kopp, an NSRDEC equipment specialist who also served in the infantry for 23 years, helped coordinate the demo and is playing a key role in getting Soldier input. He also provides logistical support for set up and take down.

"I feel the Warfighter will benefit from the rapid set up and the flexibility the system provides and the level of protection," said Kopp. "For example, if the mission requires little time in a certain location, the basic set up should provide adequate protection. Should the mission require more time, you can meet the need and improve the protection level. It's very versatile."

Lisa King-Schiappa, an NSRDEC mechanical engineer and Rocco Olean, an NSRDEC systems engineer, are both providing engineering support for the effort.

"Given the push toward expeditionary maneuver support, the bunker will provide rapidly deployable protection from indirect fire for the Warfighter," said King-Schiappa.

"We still have our work cut-out for us, but I believe that in the long run, the portability of the expeditionary mobile bunker will support the future operating concept of increasing the Army's mobility," said Olean.

Olean is proud to be a member of NSRDEC's Collective Protection Systems Team.

"What I like best about this position is the ability it provides me to continually learn and develop as well as contribute to a team whose mission is to provide new shelter and collective protection capabilities, which is something that is fundamentally necessary for the Army to stay in the fight," said Olean.

"I know if we can provide good quality, mobile protection systems, it can provide Soldiers peace of mind in the places where they live and work," said Horak. "From speaking with them, we know it is very difficult to focus on your mission when you don't feel protected. I hope the work we do will help them on this front."

"I feel being a retired Soldier in my line of work provides me a way to give back to a career that was very good to me," said Kopp. "I love knowing that what I do for work could potentially improve the quality of life for future Soldiers in our Army."

"It's extremely gratifying to know that our work will improve the safety of the Soldier," said King-Schiappa.

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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.