OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea - To Thomas Doll, handling missiles is like handling children; the consequences of carelessness can be catastrophic.
"This is a defensive weapon," said Doll, an engineering consultant from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center. "It's intended to protect lives. When it comes to missiles, you have to do everything very carefully and methodically."
Patriot Air Defense missiles are transported and installed on launchers by forklift and crane. A mishap can result in a shock event in which the missile is subjected to an amount of energy that could render it nonfunctional.
"For a long time, we've had criteria that says if a missile has dropped more than 12 inches, it's basically washed out of the stockpile," Doll said.
With a cost of nearly a million dollars a missile, uncertainty about the operational readiness of the missile is quite costly, in more ways than one. A missile that does not launch can cost lives; a functional missile that has been discarded because it was mishandled is extremely wasteful.
Consultants from the USAAMRDEC, spent two weeks in July with the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade installing devices to Patriot missile containers that will help Soldiers determine if a missile is functional or not. The upgrades are part of the Army's modernization strategy utilizing cutting-edge technology, and ensures accountability and responsible stewardship of resources.
Digital shock event sensors, not much bigger than a remote garage door opener, measure the amount of energy the missile has been subjected to. The Soldier in the field can observe if the missile has sustained a shock event exceeding a specified threshold by pushing a button on the sensor. A green LED light tells the Soldier the missile has not sustained a shock event; whereas a red LED light confirms that a shock event has occurred, and the missile will be removed from the unit's stockpile.
A group of Soldiers from 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade, had the opportunity to receive instruction and hands-on-training on the sensors. Rafael Sosa, a senior systems analyst supporting USAAMRDEC, conducted the training.
"Prior to this, there was a 12-inch tolerance; but nobody's out there with a tape measure. This device takes the guesswork out of it," Sosa said. "These checks will also become a part of the Soldiers' quarterly maintenance."
For the Soldiers selected to participate in the shock sensor device training, the importance of the technology upgrade was clear.
"Missiles are sensitive," said PV2 Liam Boorman, a Patriot system launching station operator-maintainer from 6-52 ADA Bn. "There's a limit to how much they can drop. There's no guessing anymore. Without this, mission readiness is impaired and lives are in danger."