The 25th Annual Report on the Latest Advances in Ballistic Armor Technology and Design
While great leaps in technology and product development are rare in any industry, each year sees stepwise improvements in existing product lines and the emergence of new products offering novel features, often developed in response to specific industry needs. This year was no different in the body armor industry where a plethora of small changes promise to improve the comfort, design or effectiveness of ballistic armor.
NIJ Standard 0101.07
Expected to be released late this year, the National Institute of Justice’s revised ballistic-resistant body armor standard (0101.07) will roll out a new naming convention, retiring the current numbered threat levels. Handgun threats (soft body armor) will now be represented by the letters HG, with HG1 and HG2 replacing Level II and Level IIIA, respectively; and rifle threats (hard armor) will be represented by the letters RF, with RF1 and RF3 replacing Level III and Level IV, respectively. An intermediate threat level, RF2, will be introduced and the number of soft armor levels has been reduced.
In addition to a revised nomenclature, the new standard introduces a test protocol for shaped or female body armor under which it will be tested against the same ammunition used to test planar (not shaped) armor. A different shot pattern will more fully test female armor designs. Test protocols for conditioned armor panels will also be more stringent, with the new standard requiring them to be shot at the same velocity as nonconditioned armor.
Having body armor X-rayed for damage is a costly inconvenience, but engineers at Cardiff University and California-based Microsemi collaborated on the development of A-Ultra, a handheld system which uses ultrasound to check personal protective gear for damage. While developed for military use, this device has obvious appeal for use by law enforcement as well.
DuPont™ Tensylon® HA120 is a new material for helmets which provides ballistic protection while weighing up to 40% less than traditional helmets. Optimizing the performance of traditional Tensylon solid-state extruded UltraHigh Molecular Weight PolyEthylene (UHMWPE) film technology allows manufacturers to make lightweight ballistic helmets with superior protection from bullet penetration and low Back Face Deflection (BFD), in a single-step processing cycle. To improve mold release, bonding to paint and abrasion resistance, a Tensylon HA120 core can be co-molded with outer skins of woven fabrics made with Kevlar® fiber. (dow-dupont.com)
New Ballistic Protection Products
ATS Armor™, LLC
The ATS Armor Level III Double Cut Shield is a 15 pound tactical shield which defeats 5.56 x 45mm, 7.62 x 39mm LC and 7.62 x 51mm (.308) rounds. The shield is offered with an optional 6″ x 4″ viewport. (atsarmor.com)
New from Armor Express is the Hard Core PT which features a lightweight, low profile architecture with fully adjustable shoulders and waist; a durable 500D nylon front and back shell; top loading exterior front and rear rifle plate pockets; and ambidextrous front utility pockets. Also included are an upper pocket with a pull tab; mic attachment points; front and rear hook and loop placard attachment points; and a reinforced drag strap. The Dynamic Cummerbund System, with soft armor pockets, allows the user to breathe and move more efficiently. It is available in a number of colors.
Custom-fitted solutions are a central part of the Armor Express concealable line. Specifically, the company’s latest BRAVO sizing is measured to fit each individual officer – it scales within every inch to accommodate over 200 sizes. Ballistic panels featuring the new BRAVO cut provides the wearer with enhanced coverage and a more accurate fit.
The American Revolution™ concealable vest features a notable design. The carrier’s low profile shoulder padding gives added comfort and weight disbursement; its advanced microfiber nylon in the exterior shell and slightly denser material make it more robust and enable greater longevity. The American Revolution is also water-repellent and antistatic treated. The inner lining of the vest is a moisture-wicking, antimicrobial material. The relief lines on the loop surfaces, combined with patented Easy Grip Side Straps™ allow the officer to adjust or don/doff the carrier with ease. The vest also features a 5″ x 8″ and a 7″ x 10″ front plate pocket which accommodates hard armor inserts.
As part of the Armor Express line of hard armor solutions, the Buffalo Armory® 647 Steel Plate (made by partner Buffalo Armory) measures only .21″ thick with a weight of 6.3 lbs. in a 10 x 12 SH configuration. The 647 supports departments seeking ASK (Active Shooter Kit) options. This plate is multishot rated for select threats and is certified to NIJ Level III with a Level III+ rating (includes the 5.56 x 45mm M855/SS109 “green tip”), as well as the 2018 DEA protocol. (armorexpress.com)
Baker Ballistics has introduced six new models of its popular MRAPS® Series military-grade ballistic shields. These are available in two sizes (regular and extra large) in any of three distinct rifle protective threat levels (III+, III++, and IV). All six models allow the shield operator to utilize long guns for accuracy while maneuvering the shield by use of the Baker Ballistics exclusive shock-absorbing Free-Floating Adjustable Boltless Handle System.
MRAPS Series shields are designed to enable the shield’s operator the ability to withstand repeated high energy impacts of rifle projectiles, up to and including NIJ Level IV high penetration, armor piercing military ammunitions, such as .30/06 M2 and 5.56mm x 45 M995 “black tip” belt fed machine guns.
MRAPS Series rifle-rated ballistic shields can also be instantly attached to The Reaper™ exoskeleton weightless support system, if desired.
A large VELCRO® pad is standard on all MRAPS Series shields for attaching electronic observation devices, such as an iPhone®, iPad® or Android. By use of recent low cost advances in thermal imaging capability, the need for heavy observation windows, field assembly and wheeled support are no longer required for protection against common rifle threats such as AR platform weaponry firing 5.56mm x 45 M855/SS109 “green tip” ammunition.
Also available to law enforcement/military personnel (only) is the confidential white paper, entitled “A Serious Ballistic Threats to American Law Enforcement Personnel.” Copies of this white paper can be downloaded by registering at bakerballistics.com.
The new BASTION™ Helmet can withstand direct hits from all common rifle rounds, including steel core rounds, at muzzle velocities. Augmented with an ultralightweight carbon fiber and ceramic strike face, the BASTION helmet is completely modular, featuring a full five plate configuration which covers the entire helmet shell for manning turrets, vehicular patrols and tactical raids and entries. The BASTION accommodates Wilcox® shrouds without sacrificing any coverage and M-Lok rails are also available. The helmet also includes an advanced padding system from 4D Tactical.
The Diamond Age FORCEFIELD™ armor panel offers protection from a variety of high-velocity SMG special threats, such as 7.62 x 25mm Tokarev (over 1700 fps), 5.7 x 29mm (over 2100 fps) and the HK 4.6 x 30mm (over 2000 fps). The FORCEFIELD is also handgun special threats tested and can defeat 80-grain solid copper 9mm SCS rounds in addition to knives and spikes. The FORCEFIELD, however, is as thin and light as the average soft armor panel in its class at just 6.8mm and 1.17 pounds per square foot and is available in BALCS-cut panels and BALCS armor carriers. (diamondage.org)
GH Armor Systems
GH Armor’s new HeliX IIIA HX03 series of body armor is designed for high performance. In addition to the NIJ 0101.06 Level IIIA standard, the HeliX IIIA HX03 is also special threat tested. The package includes GH Armor’s exclusively patented ballistic desiccant for moisture management. (gharmorsystems.com)
Hardwire’s Tactical Shields have been specifically produced to provide the lightest weight of protection for police officers. Designed from armor technology developed for the Department of Defense, and with input from law enforcement, all of Hardwire’s Tactical Shields meet NIJ Level IIIA or Level III protection standards. These ultralightweight ballistic protection shields are also available in multiple sizes and configurations
Hardwire’s Vehicle Armor products are an affordable way to add ballistic protection to a police vehicle without major vehicle modifications or burdensome installation. Hardwire’s car door armor quickly attaches to a vehicle’s exterior and the Transparent Armor Window Insert fits into existing vehicle window openings. The window insert and vehicle door armor provides protection against handguns and shotguns (NIJ IIIA+) or rifles (NIJ Level III). Armor is available for the Ford Interceptor, Taurus, Impala, Chevy Van, and Charger, as well as other vehicle makes and models.
Hardwire offers lightweight and cost-effective body armor plates designed to fit into most plate carriers. These hard armor plates do not degrade, surviving the harshest conditions. All plates are made in the USA using 100% Dyneema® materials and are available in single and multicurve configurations.
Hardwire utilizes a unique manufacturing process to create lightweight certified soft armor. Dyneema fibers are pressed under 25 million pounds of force at precise temperatures, turning multiple layers of material into a single system. The ballistic panels dissipate a bullet’s energy quickly and efficiently, reducing overall panel weight. Hardwire’s soft armor for tactical and concealable vests are available through Safariland®. (hardwirellc.com)
Point Blank Enterprises, Inc.
The ARMIS Gen II is a highly scalable, side opening carrier which allows tactical units the flexibility to configure their armor 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 operator mobility, agility and range of motion. The kangaroo pocket on the front flap includes three rifle magazine inserts. External, bottom loading, hard armor plate pockets are located in the front and rear.
Lightweight, thin and flexible, Point Blank’s new Elite concealable body armor system combines NIJ .06 Level II and IIIA ballistic protection with a high level of comfort. The Elite comes standard with ARMORVENT® installed which utilizes an air channel ventilation pattern to help evaporate sweat.
Easy to don and doff, the new ODC Guardian combines the versatility of a front opening vest with a design which offers optimum coverage. Users can instantly convert the ODC Guardian into a ballistic protective vest by inserting concealable ballistic panels into the front and back interior pockets. Within seconds, the ODC Guardian is ready to wear with up to Level IIIA protection.
Omega Hard Armor Plates are capable of defeating Level III and IV rifle threats and are available in a choice of two shapes (full-size or shooter’s cut). These new plates are designed to meet individual needs for comfort and function. Additional options include the choice of ultralight polyethylene or ceramic plates which will affect weight and thinness.
The new Operator Elite Helmet is manufactured utilizing a proprietary ballistic thermoplastic aramid composite shell. Its 4D Combat Pad ultracomfort system keeps users cool in the summer and warm in the winter, along a with guaranteed no rattle fit. The Rapid Adjustment Dial Boa® retention system comes with two-way adjustments and the removable suede split chinstrap allows for laundering, replacement or the use of a gas mask extender.
The FAS-TC Gen II side opening, light tactical vest from Point Blank offers high performance ballistic protection integrated in a fully functional design to achieve maximum maneuverability. Engineered to allow maximum freedom of movement while offering optimal protective coverage, the new FAS-TC Gen II provides the versatility to adapt to any mission.
Available with NIJ Standard 0101.06 Level IIIA ballistic systems, this vest features a strong and durable 500 Denier CORDURA® outer shell construction, with front and back top loading plate pockets which fit 8″ x 10″ or 10″ x 12″ hard armor plates (size dependent). (pointblankenterprises.com)
The PROTECH Tactical X Series boltless, type IIIA ballistic shields feature a patent pending process which molds the lens cap into the ballistic composition of the shield at the time of pressing, resulting in a lens cap design of the same ballistic material as the rest of the shield. The X Series streamlines the traditional ballistic shield with a design that eliminates points of weakness – the point of drill holes and seam lines where the shield and components meet. The seamless molded lens cap in this boltless design ensures ballistic integrity and reduces overall shield weight by approximately 20%. (safariland.com/protech-tactical)
The EXFIL® Ballistic line from Team Wendy delivers premium ballistic protection and comfort in its lightweight helmet. You can add the EXFIL Ballistic Visor and Ear Covers to your EXFIL Ballistic or EXFIL Ballistic SL helmet for increased coverage. The Visor and Ear Covers are available in black, coyote brown and ranger green. Installation requires an EXFIL SL Rail Retrofit Kit. (teamwendy.com)
The Armored Group, LLC
The Terrier LT-79 vehicle, developed by the TAG research and development team, represents a well-balanced combination of protection, off-road mobility and payload. The standard Terrier LT-79 will hold up to eight officers (2+6 in individual MIL-STD seats) or ten (2+8 on optional bench seating), depending on the size of the operators and amount of gear. The vehicle is agile and extremely versatile and is designed to protect individuals in dangerous operational environments while staying economical and budget-friendly. (armoredcars.com)
Some far-reaching research and development efforts for military applications could eventually result in technology trickle-down to body armor used by the law enforcement community.
The Army has continued its work on an “Ironman-like” exoskeleton. Recent prototypes and tests look to address the challenge of powering the full-body armor with energy harvesting technology which derives power from a soldier’s movement. Exoskeletons being developed contain a range of mobile technologies including thermal sensors, wearable computers and conformal body armor, Kris Osborn writes for Warrior Maven (https://tinyurl.com/y8c5ozgw). Self-powered exoskeletons would not only supply these features, but using a Lockheed-built FORTIS knee-stress-release-device exoskeleton or similar technologies would also allow them to ease the strain on soldiers’ joints and muscles while reducing the need to resupply a unit deployed in dangerous territory.
The Army is also exploring research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on liquid body armor technology which can transform from liquid to solid in milliseconds when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied. MIT’s work on poly(urethane urea) elastomers, which are touted to be 15 times stronger than steel yet flexible as fabric, have also caught the Army’s eye.
While perhaps a bit further from reaching the market, The City University of New York Graduate Center’s Advanced Science Research Center has found that flexible layered sheets of graphene (each only an atom thick) become harder than a diamond and impenetrable when struck by a bullet. The technology, when mature, could allow for body armor which is as flexible as cloth and no heavier. (https://tinyurl.com/y7799atc)
Research and development is not focused on the challenges of today, but on projected needs 20 years down the road. And, from where we sit, the future looks bright!
Formerly the Editor-in-Chief for Forensic Magazine, Rebecca Waters is a freelance writer and editor.