The 23rd Annual Report on the Latest Advances in Ballistic Armor Technology and Design
“During the past three decades, ballistic-resistant soft body armor has saved the lives of more than 3,000 police officers,” making it critical safety equipment for law enforcement, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) reports. Ballistic armor technology is constantly changing: incorporating new materials, improving performance and enhancing wearability. This article will provide some background to help you make the right body armor choices. We’ll end with a look at what the future holds.
The past year has seen further advances in ballistic armor performance. New fabrics have allowed for the development of “lighter weight, stronger and moisture-resistant tactical systems,” says Michael Foreman, EVP of International Business Development, Federal Sales and Marketing, Point Blank Enterprises.
While advances in the industry have been modest this year, Georg Olsen, Sales Manager at U.S. Armor Corporation, has noticed a worrying trend. As business is slowing in the military market, several manufacturers have begun to market their military body armor products in the law enforcement space. This presents several problems, Olsen says. “First, they are presenting products designed for foreign military operations to be used for domestic law enforcement operations and the two are not at all the same, particularly in the areas of environment, execution and final objective. Second, there is currently a major public opinion pushback regarding the ‘militarization’ of American law enforcement with significant pressure being applied to law enforcement administrators from several sources to reverse this trend. As a result, agency administrators are very image conscious and reluctant to fund the acquisition of any tactical equipment, regardless of the need.”
What to Look for in a Body Armor Purchase
“Ballistic-resistant body armor protects against bullet penetrations and the blunt trauma associated with bullet impacts. These vests include soft body armor which protects against handgun bullets and less flexible tactical armor composed of soft and hard components which protect against rifle bullets…. Law enforcement personnel must keep in mind that armor is categorized and rated for different threat levels. They should select the appropriate level of protection based on an officer’s role. SWAT members, for example, might need body armor which offers a higher level of protection than the body armor worn for regular duty,” the NIJ notes. As the level of protection increases, the comfort level generally decreases, so departments should be realistic about the threats officers in their jurisdictions are likely to face.
“Quality, comfort, value and longevity of [the] manufacturer,” are the key features to look for in a body armor purchase, Olsen says. “This is a product where tried-and-true is many times better than shiny and new.” When choosing a manufacturer, ask: Who are some of their customers you might know? Do they offer a wide selection of models and threat level choices? In tactical armor, are they willing to customize the armor to your requirements?
“The ability of the vest to stop the agency’s duty round, as well as ammunition known to exist in the region,” is key to any body armor purchase, Foreman says.
Proper measurement when fitting body armor is necessary to obtain sufficient coverage of the torso and vital organs while allowing the range of motion required for officer operations. To this end, the NIJ released the ASTM E3003, Standard Practice for Body Armor Wearer Measurement and Fitting of Armor standard for assessing the proper measurement and fit of ballistic protective equipment.
“When a person is being fitted for their vest, they need to take and hold a deep breath. This is the gap wanted between the body and the armor panels. The gap will help in reducing trauma should a bullet be experienced. It also makes it easier for officers to run and fight,” writes Scott Burton in “25 Things People Didn’t Know About Bulletproof Vests” on BodyArmorNews.com. If you gain or lose five to ten percent of your body weight, you should be fitted for a new vest, he adds.
“Insist on true custom measuring where the vest is constructed specifically for you, not just something in stock off of the shelf…you will be wearing this for five years!” Olsen says. “You should also go with a brand which offers a 60 day fit guarantee so that you can get some ‘mileage’ on your vest as you evaluate the fit.”
Female officers will require body armor which can accommodate their unique features. “Females are not small males,” said Beverly Kimball, Project Engineer for female U.S. Army aviation combat uniforms. “We have specific proportions which require designs for fit and function for uniforms as well as equipment.”
In 2007, the NIJ ruled that women’s vests must be designed with female body shapes in mind, including overlapping layers to provide adequate protection, Scott Burton wrote in “A Call for Female Friendly Body Armor.” “Women must have additional trauma security for their chest and, for that, their vests should have real bra-style cups…similar to what’s on a one-piece swimming suit,” he added.
Under a U.S. Army Program Executive Office – Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment Project contract, DuPont™ Protection Solutions is developing the next generation of Tensylon® solid-state extruded, ultrahigh molecular-weight polyethylene films for use in hard armor plates, shields and other protective equipment. The current research will focus on improved performance in law enforcement and military applications.
In other news, researchers at North Carolina State University have explored the bulletproof properties of metal foam. The foam is a lightweight material which causes projectiles to shatter into dust on contact. In a North Carolina test, a 7.62 x 63 millimeter M2 armor piercing projectile fired based on NIJ armor standards was stopped with a backface signature of less than eight millimeters; the NIJ standard allows up to 44 millimeters (http://tinyurl.com/gma2t6e).
Scientists at the Harvard Materials Research Science and Engineering Center are using a process similar to making cotton candy to produce nanofibers which could be instrumental in creating lighter bulletproof vests (http://tinyurl.com/jrojbjc).
New Ballistic Protection Products
RISE™ is a new concealable armor system engineered for safety, comfort and versatility. RISE enables you to elevate your protection with the tiered Truth SNAP™ Plate System – new trauma plates which provide rifle threat protection integrated in an ultralightweight package. Unique features include an advanced Ballistic Suspension System and a proprietary QuadCore Attachment System™ for a repeatable fit; low profile laser cut panels for PALS/MOLLE compatible attachments; an integrated Truth SNAP plate system for enhanced protection against 5.56x45mm FMJ, 7.62x39mm FMJ (AK- 47) and other special threats; and seven points of adjustment ensure a secure fit. RISE is designed to protect against NIJ 0101.06 Level II and Level IIIA standards and numerous special threats and is available for both male and female officers.
Quantum™ soft armor brings .06 stopping power ballistics at a competitive cost. Made of woven and laminated Twaron® microfilament, the Quantum ballistic package is capable of stopping the 5.7 x 28 sporting round (both II and IIIA) and the 5.7 x 28 lead-free and can include special threat capabilities.
Improvements incorporated into the LightHawk XT 2.0™ have increased the versatility of this full coverage vest. The fully scalable armor system offers a multitude of features designed to maximize maneuverability without sacrificing coverage.
The TORC (Tactical Operations Response Carrier) is a complete modular system designed for today’s law enforcement officer. Patrol, task forces and tactical teams will all benefit from the armor scalability based on the need of the officer. Designed with utility in mind, the TORC offers plate carrier simplicity with options for ballistic protection add-ons.
Baker Ballistics have updated the optional LED Light System for their MRAPS shield with aircraft-grade aluminum housings and a clear ballistic cover which protects the ten LEDs from low velocity training projectiles. The LED light array has high/low light output levels, as well as a strobe function.
The MRAPS ballistic shield models protect against centerfire rifle caliber threats while enabling users to accurately fire long guns or handguns while on the move. The armor components are constructed utilizing a proprietary military-grade polyethylene composite armor matrix.
Blauer Manufacturing Co., Inc.
Several key performance improvements have been made across Blauer’s entire ArmorSkin® product category, including several enhancements specifically suggested by individual officers. First, all ArmorSkin carriers now feature an easy loading zipper at the bottom of the mesh interlining inside, making it simple to get your existing body armor carrier in and out. Second, the two-way zipper featured on both sides of earlier ArmorSkin models has now been replaced with a strong one-way YKK® lock zipper for enhanced security and ease of wear.
The BodyShield™ External Vest Carrier accommodates fully integrated smart on-body camera and communication technology, and also allows the ballistic vest to be worn outside the uniform, while remaining virtually undetectable to the eye. Made of 600 denier Syntex polyester fabric for stain and liquid repellency, it also includes a front to back, side FastLock Closure System for ease of donning and doffing, while preventing the vest from riding up or being pulled apart. The concealable carrier is designed to house any manufacturer’s ballistic vest.
GH Armor Systems
The Orion Concealable Carrier (OCC) offers lightweight fabrics with improved comfort. Some of its features include spacer mesh at the shoulders for ventilation and comfort; a hidden shoulder strap pass-through channel to keep elastic off the shoulders; and a rear access apron for discrete strap adjustment and trauma plate insertion. The OCC is constructed out of a combination of materials. The nylon hexagonal ripstop is sleek and durable, reducing friction between fabrics. The dynamic knit fabric on the inner lining is moisture wicking, antimicrobial and odor-resistant. This same fabric is also used on stress points, like under the arm, for flexibility.
Instant Armor, Inc.
Designed and intended for first responders, the Spartan Shield™ is a two-piece, lightweight, rigid ballistic shield which is deployed in under five seconds. The Spartan Shield is designed to utilize all of the existing attachment straps which made the Instant Armor Tactical Blanket Systems™ so versatile. It is available in both rifle and handgun versions. Meeting or exceeding NIJ Threat Level III (rifle) or IIIA (handgun), the Spartan Shield defeats high-powered rifle rounds and gives you 19″ wide by 34″ tall protection when deployed. It folds down to 19″ by 19″ and weighs only 16.3 pounds.
Phalanx Defense Systems, LLC
The patented Rapid Deployment Armor Systems transform ordinary briefcases, binders or carry bags into fully functional body armor. Available in three versions for a wide variety of users, the AGENT is totally discreet and is ideal for personal security details, school resource officers and off-duty law enforcement. It transforms from an inconspicuous soft-sided briefcase to a full-fledged plate carrier; front and back internal pockets hold both hard and soft armor plates up to 10″ x 12″. With MOLLE coverage and adjustable shoulder and waist straps, the AGENT is made of durable 1000 denier CORDURA®.
Point Blank Enterprises
The latest Alpha Elite™ Black concealable body armor is an extension of Point Blank Enterprises’ Alpha Elite Series which offers lightweight, high performing NIJ .06 IIIA ballistic systems. Building on the previous Alpha Elite design, the Alpha Elite Black is even lighter (an additional 17 percent weight reduction) while still providing the same level of protection. With the latest generation of Dyneema® Force Multiplier Technology by DSM, Alpha Elite Black weighs a mere .79 psf, with 9mm V-50s greater than 2,000 fps. The Alpha Elite Black was developed to meet and exceed global standards for law enforcement, military and US Special Operations forces. It is designed to defeat high velocity handgun rounds and fragmentation with minimal backface deformation. Additionally, it offers reliable multihit protection.
The ARMIS with Halo Buckle System is designed to be highly scalable and comes in the form of a side opening carrier which allows tactical units the flexibility to configure the ballistic system to meet mission specific needs. This includes the capability to release the complete vest in one quick motion and select the specific level of protection needed, while enhancing mobility, agility and a substantially improved range of motion for the operator. The ARMIS ballistics include NIJ Level IIIA and NIJ Level II protection.
The SOHPC GEN III is Point Blank Enterprises’ latest hard plate carrier. It is designed to provide comfort, protection and flexibility to meet the needs of every mission. The latest design adds an adjustable cummerbund and optional side plate pouches for hard armor plates. SOHPC GEN III ballistics include a Stand Alone Level III Plate, a Stand Alone Level III+ Plate, a Stand Alone Level IV Plate, and an ICW III/IV Plate.
The Trifecta X is a high performance shield which has been both internally and externally certified to ballistic performance levels which meet NIJ Level III Plus protection requirements. Key components offered on the interior of the shield include a stationary handle, a thick high density foam pad and a unique hook/loop fastener forearm strap attachment system.
The ASPIS X Shield weighs a mere 17 pounds (with a light and viewport – 17.9 lbs.), and offers advanced maneuverability for handgun and long gun deployment. Available in Level III protection, the ASPIS X is special threats tested to rounds including 7.62x51mm, 149-grain M80 FMJ; 7.62x39mm, 123-grain PS Ball; and 5.56x45mm, 55-grain M193 Ball.
The Executive Ballistic Briefcase instantly converts from a lightweight, discreet briefcase to a fold-out ballistic shield with additional “special threats” protection the ASPIS X is special threats tested to rounds including 7.62x51mm, 149-grain M80 FMJ; 7.62x39mm, 123-grain PS Ball; and 5.56x45mm, 55-grain M193 Ball. The Executive Ballistic Briefcase instantly converts from a lightweight, discreet briefcase to a fold-out ballistic shield with additional “special threats” protection (by inserting SPEED plates in the plate pockets). Within seconds, this convertible solution can provide immediate protective coverage against fragmentation and bullets and is ideally suited for dignitary protection details, private security and other high threat environments. The Executive Ballistic Briefcase goes beyond traditional ballistic blankets in that it offers instant adaptability with maximum functionality in one, easy to deploy system. Folded, the briefcase measures 20″ x 13.5″ and, unfolded, 40″ x 20″.
The new Safariland Armor collection was introduced in early 2016 as a complete line of ballistic panels and carriers. The collection is comprised of five distinct panel designs which work universally with all the carrier models. The new Safariland Armor carriers introduce a system customizable for the individual officer, interchanging with every ballistic panel and carrier. The concealable Covert carriers employ ergonomic designs, lightweight fabrics and contoured stitch lines and feature laminated four-way stretch fabric and a cooling spacer mesh liner. The Overtcarrier options – worn externally – feature traditional and load bearing styles. The V1 and U1 Overt carrier models encompass a hidden gun pocket, VELCRO® adjustable shoulders and ribbed channel spacer cooling mesh. Each of these models is offered in eight front or side opening options for individual preference.
A unique product within Safariland Armor’s product line, the HyperX™ is an integrated system consisting of a performance base layer T-shirt made of stretch fabric which moves and flexes and a ballistic carrier – both have soft armor plate pockets for enhanced coverage and protection.
U.S. Armor Corp.
U.S. Armor’s Lightweight Anti-Rifle Plates are high performance plates with multihit capacity at half the weight of traditional ceramic plates. A dual curved surface provides a torso shaped fit for better comfort. The plates are durable enough to withstand drops or impact during transport and storage, yet are positively buoyant allowing them to float in water.
The Mayflower RC Law Enforcement Plate Carrier (LEPC) is made of 500 denier nylon CORDURA and was designed with limited MOLLE and elastic cummerbunds for a sleek and clean look. What makes this system modular is the optional and removable front MOLLE flap which allows the easy addition of optional quarter flaps. The quarter flaps house soft or hard armor and allow the end user to don/ doff from that single point without having to lift the front flap.
The Velocity Systems STOP Vest™ was designed to address shortcomings in typical entry vest carriers while still having a traditional full cut, meeting the needs of law enforcement special tactics teams. The STOP Vest holds ergonomic STOP soft armor inserts and a variety of hard armor plates. Narrowed shoulder straps and narrower shoulder soft armor coverage allow the wearer better arm movement. The soft armor is cut larger under the armpit and on the sides to allow better side protection while maximizing side to side mobility. Entry is via quarter flaps, allowing the wearer to don and doff from the ten o’clock and two o’clock positions, keeping the front of the system flap-free.
What does the future of body armor hold? “I think that companies will continue to work on developing body armor solutions which are thinner, lighter and more flexible than current products,” Olsen says. “This has always been the goal of the industry, although I am not expecting anything ‘revolutionary,’ since current products have made such great advances in these areas already. Absent some new, as yet undiscovered, ‘miracle material,’ we are now already very close to that wall which separates comfort from performance and I don’t believe that there’s a lot more room for that to go. I also think that there will be more comfort advances as the industry continues to explore new fabrics for the outer vest carriers which will provide better heat, perspiration and bacterial management for the wearer.”
“Breakthroughs in stab technology will allow us to offer significantly lighter weight ballistic/stab combo solutions,” Foreman predicts. We’ll see a “new era to offer multithreat options.” First responder requirements will also change to include “improved options for rifle protection including lighter weight rifle protection and rapid uparmoring capabilities for first responders,” he adds.
Formerly the Editor-in-Chief for Forensic Magazine, Rebecca Waters is a freelance writer and editor.