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Blast Overpressure Research Brings NATO Group to DHHQ

Image of Military personnel fire mortar rounds. U.S. Army Spcs. Alejandro Ramirez, left, and Michael Hatzioannou fire mortar rounds during the U.S. Army Europe and Africa Best Squad Competition at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Aug. 10, 2022. The DOD and NATO are studying the effects of overblast pressure and its impact on brain health and held a recent working group conference at Defense Health headquarters in November. (U.S. Army Sgt. Christian Dela Cruz)

Research on blast overpressure and its impact on brain health was the focus of a three-day meeting with NATO allies at Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, last month.

At the request of NATO, Department of Defense Health Affairs hosted representatives from seven NATO countries from Nov. 16-18 to continue work on developing operational and research guidelines that will help allies advance their blast overpressure monitoring and research capabilities now and in the future.

Specifically, the goal is to establish expert recommendations to aid NATO countries and warfighters worldwide in developing their own blast overpressure monitoring and prevention programs, said Canadian Navy Lt. Peter Beliveau, one of the three leaders of the working group meeting.

Known as BOP, blast overpressure is the sudden onset of a pressure wave from explosions occurring with the use of shoulder-carried artillery and heavy armor in both training and deployment, in breaching buildings, and from improvised explosive devices. The bigger the explosion, the more damaging the pressure wave, the DOD has noted.

The relationship between blast overpressure and health and performance effects needs to be more fully understood so that appropriate monitoring and safety guidance can be developed. This maps to the DOD Warfighter Brain Health Initiativeopens PDF: Department of Defense Warfighter Brain Health Initiative - Strategy and Action Plan, which strives to identify, monitor and mitigate brain threats, such as blast overpressure, said Kathy Lee, lead at DOD Health Affairs for the Department's Warfighter Brain Health Initiative.

Current research has provided emerging evidence of adverse health and performance effects from blast overpressure ranging from headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, a decrease in cognitive performance, and sleep disturbances, she said.

Some of the practical outcomes expected by this work "include improved personal protective equipment such as helmets," Beliveau said.

"Warfighter education will empower soldiers to modify existing tactics, techniques, and procedures to reduce blast overpressure exposure," he added. "Finally, the exposure monitoring approaches discussed may help facilitate the delivery of care to injured soldiers as required and in a more efficient and effective manner."

As part of a congressionally directed research effort on brain health and blast exposures, DOD Health Affairs and the Defense Health Agency have conducted studies that took place at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in 2021 and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, this year.

[For more, read DOD Brain Health Initiative is at Work Across the Military]opens article: DOD Brain Health Initiative is at Work Across the Military

Overblast experts at NATO conference From left, Canadian Navy Lt. Peter Beliveau, CANSOFCOM, National Defence; Dr. Mattias Skold, Karolinska Institute, Sweden, who focuses on military medicine and questions related to traumatic injuries in the nervous system; and Tim Westerhof, from the TNO Expertise Group for Explosions, Ballistics, and Protection, the Hague, the Netherlands. The three were the leaders of the recent NATO overblast pressure conference. (Robbie Hammer, MHS Communications)

Blast Overpressure Presentations

The conference in November included a recap of the group's last meeting in Paris, France, daily updates from breakout groups, and six detailed presentations of recent research.

These research presentations covered:

  • Exposure monitoring and brain health policy in U.S. Special Operations forces
  • Physiological effects of acute and chronic exposure to blast overpressure
  • Blast overpressure results from an ongoing U.S. congressionally mandated study and a new diagnostic code on primary blast injury to the brain
  • DOD's Warfighter Brain Health Initiative
  • Comparison measurements of primary blast with sensors and blast gauge systems in German breaching training and deployment scenarios
  • Blast exposure health effects as seen from a French expert

DOD Interim Safety Guidance

Because of the emerging evidence of blast overpressure harm, the DOD signed an interim guidance memo on Nov. 4 that "will manage the risk of exposures exceeding four pounds per square inch (psi) as part of training, and execution."

"Weapons known to produce blast overpressure of more than four psi include breaching charges, shoulder-fired weapons, 0.50-caliber machine guns, and indirect fire," the memo states.

Other actions directed by the memo include:

  • Minimizing the number of personnel in the vicinity of blast overpressure events
  • Increasing stand-off distances from weapons
  • Minimizing the duration of live-fire events
  • Establishing a maximum allowable number of rounds that may be fired during each event or time period
  • Ensuring application and appropriate use of personal protective gear and equipment such as ear protection
  • Training and education on blast overpressure hazards and risk management actions

The international group is about halfway through what is expected to be a three-year project, according to Lee. The report is scheduled to be given to NATO's Science and Technology Organization by February 2024, Beliveau said. International partnership in threat areas such as blast overpressure will help accelerate solutions for protecting and optimizing warfighter brain health.

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Last Updated: January 22, 2024
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