Trial will better protect RCN divers from underwater explosions

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Defence scientists and technologists recently collaborated on a series of underwater trials in Halifax, N.S., to uncover data which could save the lives of Royal Canadian Navy divers.

“It is critical that divers be able to operate safely notwithstanding inherently dangerous combat and operational environments,” said Rear-Admiral John Newton, commander Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic. “Refining our knowledge of safe stand-off from underwater explosions influences operational planning, tactical development and training doctrine. This is part of our ongoing modernization of operational capabilities that must be adjusted to keep pace with the evolution of maritime operations.”

The international trials collected underwater acoustic sound, and blast pressure data using low-weight explosive charges in a coastal environment close to the shoreline. The collaborative experiment drew upon the expertise of Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) research teams and specialized diagnostic instrumentation from DRDC Research Centres across Canada.

“Bedford Basin offers near perfect conditions for researchers to carry out trials like these,” said Dale Reding, DRDC Director General Science and Technology Air Force and Navy. “We collected critical data about how underwater explosions close to shore can impact the human body, and how far divers should be from an explosive device for safe diving operations.”

DRDC’s battery-powered data acquisition system (DAQ) is specially designed to gather blast data autonomously. The DAQ continuously monitored its GPS time and location and communicated wirelessly with the scientists.

Highly sensitive underwater sensors measured underwater explosions in a ‘real’ environment. The gauges and autonomous data recording devices included a synthetic human head, which was suspended beneath the boat and exposed to the blast wave. The data from the ‘head’ provides insight into a diver’s susceptibility to head injuries and the biological effects of underwater blasts on the body.

The data from this unique trial will be used to validate computer models, ensure a better understanding of underwater blast effects on humans, and will generate more accurate standoff ranges for divers who perform underwater operations in the vicinity of explosive devices.

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