How blast-proof suits work


The protective suits worn by bomb diffusers in "The Hurt Locker" are real, right down to those fabulously popped collars, and they really do save lives. The secret is all in the materials, which provide a barrier against both shockwaves and shrapnel.

The overpressure wave is actually the more dangerous of the two. A microsecond after a bomb goes off, the explosion compresses the surrounding air and blows it outward in a lightning-fast shockwave that ripples through clothing and literally flattens internal organs.

The suit's rigid outer armor layer, the first and most important defense against this threat, is composed mainly of aramids: high-tech synthetic materials that are "strain-rate sensitive." In other words, "the faster something hits them, the harder they become," says Borkar. (Kevlar is simply the brand name of an aramid manufactured by DuPont.) The entire front-facing portion of the suit is reinforced from head to toe with hardened composites of two or more aramids, optimized for strength and lightness. This rigid layer can literally reflect or bounce some of the overpressure energy away from the technician, while also repelling flying fragmentation.

And that's only the first layer of defense. The suits have three total. The downside to all that protection: Weight. Each suit adds an extra 60 or 70 pounds, thus making it even more impressive that Staff Sgt. Jeremy Herbert, the explosive ordnance technician team leader for Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, has run a mile, wearing his suit, in nine minutes and 58 seconds.

Dvice: How Bomb-Proof Suits Work


  1. Shurely shome mishtake?

    Bomb defusers, not diffusers. Diffusing a bomb would be very, very handy though.

  2. So you’re saying that there was at least one realistic element to this film? Fascinating.

    1. According to Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver this movie mimicked more than just EOD suits. From the sound of it the screen writer built the main character based on the Master Sgt. and the things he did in Iraq without giving any mention of credit to Sarver.

      1. From my own screening of the film to numerous critics writing online, the film is inaccurate from start to finish in its depiction of the military: they even manage to get the uniforms wrong. The soldiers play XBox 360 in one scene…. a year before the console was released! The soldiers stand out in the open in numerous scenes (perhaps because the film uses extras sparingly, lol: but Baghdad was rather crowded then). The bomb disposal team suddenly gets mad sniper skills in one scene. Etc. Etc.

        It was a great movie, and excellent on the psychology of war and warriors, but a realistic one it’s definitely not.

        1. “It was a great movie, and excellent on the psychology of war and warriors, but a realistic one it’s definitely not.”

          I think you mean to say it’s not “factual”. “Realistic” is a broad/relative term. I think it’s apparent the movie is realistic. Avatar, not so much.

          /splitting hairs, but you get the jist

          1. Excellent correction, thanks! But I’d say, despite my lack of clarity with the two terms, that the steady trickle of factual inaccuracies adds up to a lack of realism. (Phew! Nice save, ‘Dawwg!) Thanks, though!

            netsharc, I’m a gamer, so maybe I was prepped, as it were, to notice the XBox. It wasn’t until I got home and checked the platform’s release dates against the timeframe of the movie that I was sure. You might think it’s not a big deal, but since the soldiers play a LOT of video games during downtime, you’d really think that the art department could have gotten some PS2s or whatnot.

          2. Does it even matter that the movie had the wrong model Xbox and iPod? If they changed the text at the introduction to “Iraq, 2007”, how different would the movie be? There were still IED’s at that time (there are still IEDs now!), the same morons were still in the government, etc.

          3. I would say that these touches and details do matter, and for several reasons. As I’ve noted above, following many critics, the inaccuracies presented by these small details are mirrored by the much graver inaccuracies about tactics, deployment, etc. at the larger level: for a movie that touts itself as a realistic depiction of war, these details and their fidelity most definitely do matter. You can’t dine out on your film’s fidelity to actual combat, and then invoke creative license when it gets hammered, repeatedly and at length, on these very points.

            For me another issue is the screenwriter’s experience while embedded with a unit: why did he do this only to get so many details wrong later? This boggles me: it’s almost as if the embed were his paid vacation so he could come back with the clout of having Iraqi dirt under his nails, only to bang out wholesale fiction. (Whereas Steven Crane never once saw combat and wrote one of the best fictional accounts of the Civil War.) Was it simply having been there, rather than having observed Iraq minutely and accurately, that was the point? Just a sweet marketing ploy? Dunno, if the film is going to be sold from the outset as realistic and as part of lived experience, it had better damn answer to the critiques of anonymous bloggers like myself, armed only with the latest George Packer article and a lifetime of geeking out on all things militaristic.

          4. @anon I think you meant “gist” – I know it’s splitting hairs, but I just jist at the opportunity to split some hairs.

  3. high-tech synthetic materials that are “strain-rate sensitive.” In other words, “the faster something hits them, the harder they become,”

    John Brunner predicted something like this in his classic novel Stand On Zanzibar, but the material was used in a device called a “Karatand” — a glove that was soft when worn, but became rock-hard upon impact with something else — like when you punched someone or gave them a karate chop.

  4. There are a lot of EOD personnel in Iraq. It’s questionable whether Sgt Sarver has much of a case unless more specific parallels can be made. As it is, EOD personnel are also complaining that the movie isn’t true to life so Sarver can’t have it both ways.

    1. Oy. You might ask the director, screenwriter, studio, etc., that question: they, not I, squarely situated the film in the genre of realistic war drama.

      The film itself trumpets its realism, not least in its marketing. Artistically, you’re right, and I myself prefer gloriously unrealistic war movies like the criminally overlooked Inglourious Basterds. But if you’re going to talk the talk, your walk had better look good…. or something.

      By your argument, why didn’t they shoot it with GI Joe toys?

  5. @nanuq,

    While the movie may not be accurate in the sense of EOD procedures, if a movie comes out displaying the exact things you did in combat, you might wonder if they based the character on you too. Boal was embedded as a journalist with Sarver’s unit for an entire month, you don’t think he picked up on something during the time he spent there? Even if Boal based his main character on Sarver by accident, Boal should still do the right thing and give recognition to Sarver and his unit.


    Yes, the xbox is the most glaring error (didn’t notice the uniform issue) and have a few hundred more extras in each scene would have just muddied up the movie, so I can forgive them for that. I thought the sniper scene had a decent amount of realism, they went through a magazine and a half (possibly more) though I will give you the distance factor (for that matter the Iraqi sniper; what’s the effective range of his weapon and could an Iraqi soldier or insurgent snipe at that distance?)

    And yes, to quote you; “it was a great movie, and excellent on the psychology of war and warriors, but a realistic one it’s definitely not.”

    1. An Iraqi sniper trained to do so, could, I think: anyone who hadn’t practiced a bunch wouldn’t, was my point. Not the distances so much as the skills. I do love the drink-box moment, though: that seemed achingly real.

      I hate to piss all over the film, but I do think it raises critical questions about our media and our wars, especially the current wars we’re embroiled in. And since movies like this are one way in which we get to “learn” about The Iraq, these are questions worth asking.

      1. I do believe your pissing on the media and our culture, not the film specifically. We shouldn’t have to get stories of Iraq piece-meal like this is a nice pretty package in a climate controlled and darkened room. Maybe you could blame Vietnam, our leaders then gave reporters cart blanche and Americans got to see their sons and daughters die on the evening TV. If we had similar coverage to Iraq or Afghanistan, we wouldn’t be there any more because public outcry would have gotten us out long ago. American politicians learned from the mistakes of their predecessors, now you get news when and where the government wants to release it.

        People go to movies to escape, now more than ever, and if you reality stares back at them from that brightly lit screen they won’t stay in the theater; they don’t want to see realitly, they want a fantasy even if just for 2 hours. Unfortunately for all of us, the news media caught onto this idea and is feeding us a fantasy instead of real news; infotainment.

        Now the best we can do is commiserate with fictional characters in fictional situations, based slightly on a story some guy heard once that might have a shred of truth to it. That aside, the juice box scene made me go get a glass of water.

        1. Totally. It’s so weird: we crave immediacy and authenticity from media depictions of wars whose immediacy and authenticity we distance ourselves from tremendously, from ignoring the march to war and the headlines, to overconsuming and rationalizing away the war’s continued presence. You’re darn right, that’s what I’m pissing on!

          I’d blame Vietnam less than Iraq I, the dry-run for the last decade’s madness. Jarhead, both book and film, nailed that war as so much media hype and spectacle covering so many crimes and corpses.

          bklynchris, the critical question is if he’s wearing the suit in bed, no? ‘Cause I can see a whole lot of issues and opportunities either way!

    2. “Yes, the xbox is the most glaring error …”

      If that is all that critics can pick out as the problems with this movie, they have lost sight of the forest for the trees. XBOX? Uniforms? If that is the level of detail that you think is signficant, you should probably stay away from movies.

      1. Just so long as you then stay away from film criticism. Fair’s fair. :P

        I didn’t really feel like exhausting the post with a list of each and every inaccuracy: they’re legion. Google’s your friend, so take a look if you want more. Here’s the most glaring one: units would never have gone out in small groups, as we see in the movie, during the height of the insurgency. Jeremy Renner’s solo rescue mission at the end would have been suicide. Etc., etc.

      2. Details are important to immerse the viewer in the world that the director has created. By comparison its like having a period movie set in medieval times only to see character wearing a digital watch in one scene.

        1. A digital watch in the medieval times is a 300-400-500 year discrepancy, the XBox 360 is only 2 years, did you really notice it when you watched the movie (did you even watch the movie?) or did you read about it on IMDB?

          It’s not even an important plot point, so if he wasn’t playing a 360 he could’ve been playing a PSOne FFS!

          FWIW, when I saw the bomb suit in the movie I thought “wow, that’s some neat tech that the guys in Iraq have”, I never once considered that it’s something the movie made up.

          1. Yes, I have seen it, and yes I did notice the xbox being out of place. Its sloppy of props department to let something like that slip. Same goes for the Army ACUs, but the uniforms aren’t something I noticed until Tdawwg mentioned it. As for the bomb disposal suit goes that was correct as far as I know.

            As for errors in general, there is a list as long as my arm on imdb. The art department should be ashamed for letting so many errors slip.

        2. “By comparison its like having a period movie set in medieval times only to see character wearing a digital watch in one scene …”

          That’s a bit of hyperbole as compared to talking about an xbox or uniform. A better comparison would be to say that the medieval sword had a hilt that was 10 years before its time or that the shoes worn in one scene were actually from Scotland rather than England.

  6. Isn’t it something of a spoiler to reveal that, in the movie, someone became a bomb diffuser?

  7. Cover your ears, this might be inappropriate. If he can run a mile in that suit, can you imagine what he’s like in bed?

    1. Cover your ears, this might be inappropriate. If he can run a mile in that suit, can you imagine what he’s like in bed?

      Stinky would be my guess. And probably really tired.

  8. Bomb diffuser?

    I think you meant bomb defuser.

    Although given that the image is of a bomb turning itself into a fine mist, maybe you did mean diffuser.

  9. “The protective suits worn by bomb diffusers”

    Well, better that you diffuse the bomb than the bomb diffuses you.

    And although diffusing the bomb would likely work to prevent its detonation, I suspect they stick with just defusing it.

  10. John Brunner wasn’t the only one; if I remember right Larry Niven predicted it too. Seems to me, in “Ringworld Engineers”, Louis Wu has a suit that stiffens when it’s hit with a shock and spreads the energy out over the entire body. This makes the suit bullet and blade proof and the wearer able to withstand a fall, without major injury, off a balcony that’s a stories up. Although walking around in it is a little like walking under water due to slight stiffening of the suit.

  11. Oh sure, they have aramids now, but back when my grandaddy was dealing with unexploded WWI ordnance, he had to wear a suit made from cornstarch.

  12. < troll >
    The most glaring error of the film, is that Staff Sergeant William James looked a lot like actor Jeremy Renner. Why was he a soldier? He could have just been an acting double for Renner. That flaw completely ruined the intricate psychological intensity presented throughout the film.
    < /troll >

  13. Gainclone had it right. Watch any movie about your specific technical background and you’ll notice a tonne of errors. I can’t watch anything medical without seeing mistakes that would kill the patient outright. But, you know what? I can still appreciate the movie and the message it’s trying to make. In THL – “war is a drug” was definitely the message I came out with. In any case, the cool tech in the article is awesome, so let’s just appreciate that!

Comments are closed.