New Methods to Measure the Safety of Military Equipment

By Edmonds, William; Hirano, Jenelle et al. | National Defense, May 2009 | Go to article overview

New Methods to Measure the Safety of Military Equipment


Edmonds, William, Hirano, Jenelle, Rodriguez-Johnson, Elizabeth, National Defense


The Defense Department has developed a new tool for acquisition programs that was designed to gauge the safety of weapons systems. It is called the "system safety metrics method" tool, or SSMM.

SSMM can be especially useful for programs that are driven by an urgent need, such as the mine resistant ambush protected vehicle. The model would help to properly identify potential hazards to the operators of the vehicle--including overheating or rollovers.

Other programs that would benefit from SSMM are commercial off-the-shelf procurements such as body armor. The equipment may be effective in protecting against ballistic threats or fragments, but that does not ensure it is safe for the user because a provider may not have tested or documented flammability or ventilation issues.

Safety engineers at the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Ala., see the potential for the model's practical application to manage safety risks and prevent mishaps.

Identifying safety vulnerabilities early in a program's life cycle is imperative for protecting troops and reducing preventable accidents. In addition, detecting safety weaknesses early on helps to save costs. The earlier problems are discovered, the better they can be addressed and remedied before the government invests heavily in development, testing and deployment.

The trouble with traditional methods for judging safety programs is that they involve time-consuming and costly empirical studies that are scheduled too late in the timeline to be of greatest use to the program. Most safety evaluations take place no sooner than the Milestone B engineering and manufacturing development phase after a program has been established and resources are provided for safety support. In some cases, important data may not even be collected until after the program ends. Audit results usually are not available immediately, and the analysis may take several months or more to complete. Programs may request an audit during development, but audits are not systematically performed on every program.

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Under the traditional evaluations, for example, testing a vehicle's potential to roll over at a certain speed or turning radius would require the creation of a model of adverse driving conditions, coupled with the vehicle's operating characteristics. The evaluation may take months or even years. By the time a program analyzes the data, the production may well under way. Defense Department data shows that the majority of mishaps are attributed to human error, which may occur as a result of applying procedural and training controls for hazards that could have been addressed with design solutions.

The Department's defense safety oversight council created the SSMM through its acquisition and technology programs task force.

The task force came up with a standardized approach to define the measures of system safety practices, similar to the CMMI (capability maturity model integration) model for assessing system design maturity. The group estimated that defense system safety programs were currently at only a CMMI 1 level.

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