The ‘not too distant’ future of body armor
When it comes to the technological development of body armor and bullet proof vests one struggles to find a current middle ground. You have either the kevlar vests, which offer less body coverage and less protection but more mobility, or the heavier vests which boast higher stopping power, protection and can take multiple projectile hits but at the cost of mobility, comfort and in some occasions overheating. So why hasn’t there been any new development being the vital equipment that it is. You argue it’s the greed of private companies or the bureaucracy of the government which have halted any “groundbreaking” new technology in recent years, yet some big ideas have begun to come to light that promise a revolutionary new equipment that might save countless troop and civilian lives. So, taking into consideration that an average soldier needs about 31 pounds of armor to be fully protected and even with the minimum amount of gear still totaling in at around 21 pounds, the Army is being forced to switch troops to a lighter 16.5 pound vest that offers 1/4 of the protection. The main concern all manufacturers have with tackling this problem is making heavy armor plates at least 10 to 20 times lighter than any current plating without it affecting the integrity of the armor. Apart from the obvious weight concerns, current vests have the problem of overheating in harsh climates to the point where soldiers are forced to remove them in order to avoid heat strokes. And most heavy armored vests offer limited mobility and can cause stress fractures if used for an extended amount of time; so developing a vest that that is flexible, fits tightly, offers a high level of protection and doesn’t overheat is the overall goal.
When considering the problem of weight, 16.5 pounds of body protective gear is still unreasonably heavy if you are in battlefield harsh conditions; so future vests are aimed to be 10 pounds or less in order to hit a more manageable weight. Some manufacturers are considering using a type of boron-carbide ceramic plating that can weigh up to 30 percent less and offer even higher protection than the currently used by the military, adding to this an improved construction process that is being tested to make the plates fit more comfortably to the contours of the chest and spine. All this would be useless if the vest isn’t wearable for an extended period of time; in response to this heat issue, an inner vest cooling system is being developed that allows the wearer to maintain a safe body temperature under any environmental condition involving an inner shirt with a heat exchange that uses the circulation of water to provide cooling by means of a thermo-controlled valve that self regulates accordingly. Some light armored vests, mainly ones that use kevlar, are going to be replaced by body armor made from M-5 fibers which offer greater strength and 1/3 of the weight. That, and it relies on self-adjusting plates that prevent serious bruising to the chest but allow plenty of flexibility. Other options are liquid kevlar vests, this technology is reliant on a thickening liquid called polyethylene glycol which transitions from soft to rigid when impacted by a projectile, preventing any penetration and softening the impact. This type of liquid armor may just hold the key to the future of body armor since it’s implementation in all types of vests is currently being studied. So we can say the future is bright for body armor or even more importantly is that we’ll sleep better knowing we’re better protected.