Advancements in ballistic armor accelerate
Industry collaboration among fiber suppliers, weavers, and manufacturers is helping to drive development of state-of-the-art solutions for multi-market segments
By Samuel White, Point Blank Enterprises
In my 20 years of working in ballistics R&D, I can now say that the industry has truly transitioned from its infancy stage into adulthood — the marketplace has matured! We’re seeing all the pieces and players — from the fiber and fabric producers to the raw material converters (weavers) and armor manufacturers — coming together to share experiences and critical insights from the field with R&D labs.
As a result, we have the development of highly advanced ballistic packages with huge cross-over potential for multiple sectors, ranging from military and federal to Special Forces and reaching law enforcement agencies nationwide.
More than ever, these markets are benefiting tremendously from the most innovative ballistic technologies the industry has to offer.
Ballistic Technology Rapidly Evolving
We’re starting to see in most recent years the application of ballistic science becoming more mature. Historically, the industry simply “stacked and tacked” materials together. Now, we’re looking deeper at the true science of “cause and effect” and how to take a bullet’s energy of motion (i.e. kinetic energy) to make it zero energy or motionless, as the fibers in the armor are engaged. Researchers have a better understanding of the pure science behind what’s occurring with the absorption and transfer of energy along the layers of fibers, until the bullet is stopped and the forces have dissipated.
I describe the exponential growth we’re seeing as a Moore’s Law of sorts in ballistic material science and technology, with paradigm shifts continuing to become increasingly common and leading to technological change that’s swift and profound.
A New Age of High Performance
End-users (servicemen, agents and officers) are by far driving the process, however, as only they know best the threats faced — be it chemical, biological, nuclear, ballistic fragmentation, or edge-blade. The user community is providing a tremendous amount of feedback as more officers are deployed in the “Global War on Terrorism.”
The importance of body armor has never been more realized than now, with customers asking for more than just the minimum standards to be met in their protective gear. We see increasing requests for special performance requirements such as fragmentation requirements from the soldier in theater or the agent working with the DEA. While customers don’t set requirements for the fiber/material supplier, they do set them for the body manufacturer.
They say, “You need to protect me against these particular threats and you have to set up test protocols for these particular conditions.”
The industry is responding by finding the most innovative solutions, which call for a keen understanding of the performance of each offering and the creation of technical synergies to optimize these offerings. Notwithstanding, there are significant challenges for R&D such as the ability to change a two-dimensional material into something that’s three-dimensional and to configure materials to meet load-bearing requirements, for instance.
To answer these challenges, hybridized materials have been introduced to reduce weight and increase comfort while still achieving the maximum performance of ballistic systems.
Where to Next?
Additionally, I believe we will see the formation of more centers of excellence and advisory groups such as the Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Advisory Council (LECTAC), the Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES), and the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) — comprising end-users, providers, suppliers and industry practitioners whose goals are to drive performance benchmarks and foster the growth of the next generation of cutting-edge solutions.
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